Billion Dollar Babies: A Special Report

Billion Dollar Babies: A Special Report

It's a shocking statistic: nearly 400,000 teen girls give birth each year in the United States. Alabama has one of the higher teen pregnancy rates in the nation. You may ask - Why should I care? Well, a child born to a teen mom has high costs, not just to the mother, but all of us.

Kenya Murray was forced to grow up in a hurry.  At 16 years old, she found out she was pregnant.  She recalls, "I was devastated.  I didn't know what to do, what to expect, how I was going to take care of a child at the age of 16."

Now instead of hanging out with friends, she's changing diapers and balancing school work with raising a child. "It is hard, it is real hard, but I can do it," she insists.

"I didn't want a baby until I was 26," but at 18 Kadijah Howard got pregnant.

Kadijah says, "It is a lot of responsibility."  It's a responsibility that's falling on many teens.

In 2011, 6,697 teens gave birth in Alabama. The birth rate is 20.9%.  That is the lowest birth rate on record, but experts say it's still too high.  "They have been told it is okay and often taught the lesson to wait to have sex," says Jessica Whatley.

Whatley leads Grow Our Own Youth through the Gift of Life Foundation. The program works with 7th and 9th graders to prevent teen pregnancy.

The youngest mother to give birth in our state in 2011 was 13 years old.  A 12 year became a mother in 2010. Researchers have found girls and boys are entering puberty earlier.  Whatley says, "We don't just say don't have sex. We talk about refusal and negotiation skills." @@@@

Teen pregnancy has significant social, economic and health costs. According to the Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, teen childbearing costs U.S. taxpayers an estimated $11 billion each year.

In Alabama alone, taxpayers support teen childbearing to the tune of $192 million - that's an average of $92 coming out of your pocket every year.

Jamie Keith with the Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy says prevention is key. She says if we invest money in prevention it will save the state in the long run. "If we invest time, energy and resources in good quality programs then we will begin to see significant declines in teen pregnancy. So, the cost of child bearing, by default will decrease," says Keith.

Statistics show teen moms are less likely to finish their education. Their children are more likely to drop out of school, have health problems and end up behind bars.  Kenya and Kadijah are determined to beat the odds. They are part of the Gift of Life's Nurse Family Partnership Program that helps them stay on track.

Kadijah returned to high school less than two weeks after her son was born.  She graduated with good grades. She plans to start college in the spring. She says, "I came too far to turn around."

Kenya is back at school and has plans to become a nurse. "It is important to get education and do something with your life, " says Kenya.

For more information about teen pregnancy visit the Alabama Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy's website.

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