The drop of South Carolina’s teen birth rate to a historic low is great news this week and should be duly celebrated. Teens should be concentrating on education and learning to become responsible adults, not having babies. And it’s wonderful that we’ve managed to get our rate down to 39.1 births for every 1,000 girls age 15-19, a drop from 54 per 1,000 just 10 years ago.
But there’s still plenty of work left to do.
South Carolina still has the 11th highest teen birth rate in the nation, higher than neighbors North Carolina (17th highest) or Georgia (13th highest). And the U.S. has a higher rate than other industrialized nations. Cutting that rate still further should be something we all work toward.
Why? What does it matter if teenagers have babies? Isn’t that their business? On the contrary, it’s an issue that affects all of us. Teen mothers are less likely to finish high school (only 38 percent will) and more likely to rely on public assistance. Their children, who are often born with lower birth weights, are in turn also less likely to succeed in school. The S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy estimates that public costs associated with teen pregnancy adds up to more than $7.6 million a year in Horry County, money that ultimately comes from taxpayers’ pockets.
The S.C. Campaign has been particularly involved in Horry County since late 2010, having secured a five-year federal grant that charges them with the task of lowering particularly high rates in Horry and Spartanburg counties. In the time since, the group has directed more than half a million dollars to local nonprofits and groups that work with teens. In turn those groups – such as A Father’s Place, the Boys & Girls Club of the Grand Strand, Sea Haven and more – have expanded their work in getting age-appropriate and effective sex education before the teens they serve.
And though it’s hard to point to what exactly is driving down local rates, the increased visibility that the campaign has brought to our region has certainly made some impact. For years Horry County had a teen birth rate that tracked higher than the state average. Starting in 2010, that rate dropped precipitously, and the county’s now about 10 percent lower than the state average (though still about 10 percent higher than the national average).
What can we take away from this recent drop? Strategies are working. The S.C. Campaign is very results-focused. It tests and surveys teens before and after education programs, to determine what information sinks in, what changes attitudes and what makes an impact on specific activities. Continuing to tweak such efforts over the coming years should help achieve even better outcomes. Getting the message to a wider audience would also help. Though it already works closely with established community partners, the campaign is looking to reach more teens – girls and boys – with its message that pregnancy is great, but not right now. Do you lead a group that would be a good fit? The campaign has money to hand out and wants to talk to you.
The birth rate is headed in the right direction, something we should all celebrate. Now let’s keep the momentum going.