By Jane Fonda, Melissa Kottke and Kim M. Nolte
Public health professionals, educators, clinicians, parents and the community cheered recently when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new teen birth data for 2012. The teen birth rate is declining dramatically in Georgia.
In fact, in just one year (2011-2012), Georgia saw an impressive decline of 12 percent, the second-highest decline in the country and the highest decline our state has ever seen. The state’s teen birth rate has plummeted more than 50 percent since 1995.
Bottom line: Fewer teens are having sex, and for those who are, there’s a sharp increase in the use of contraceptives, thanks to the hard work several organizations do to keep the issue front and center.
All of us should be excited about this news for several reasons. Teen childbearing costs Georgia taxpayers more than $465 million each year. It is the No. 1 reason girls drop out of high school; only 2 percent of teen mothers graduate from college. In addition, teen births are closely tied to intergenerational poverty, higher rates of incarceration of boys born to teen mothers, and increased rates of child abuse and neglect.
Reducing the teen birth rate makes a difference for our children, families, economy and society. We should be pleased because, collectively, we have been working toward this outcome. It is rewarding to see how effective teen pregnancy prevention programs and clinical practices can work synergistically to achieve critical goals.
Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. We are not done yet solving teen pregnancy in Georgia. In 2012, nearly 13,000 teen girls in our state became teen mothers; that’s 35 each day. One in four of these births were to teens who were already mothers. Georgia has one of the highest rate of repeat births to teens in the U.S. These families barely have a chance of getting out of, and staying out of, poverty.
Preventing teen pregnancy is complex but has been identified as a “winnable battle” by the CDC. It is going to take us all working together. One new model, the Georgia Public-Private Partnership (P3), is trying just that.
P3, whose partners include nonprofits, professional associations, universities, the Georgia departments of public health, education and juvenile justice and the Division of Family and Children Services, is a collective impact model to strengthen and align the efforts of agencies and organizations throughout the state that are working to decrease teen pregnancy. Its aim is to ensure young people have access to effective teen pregnancy prevention programs, clinical care that is teen-friendly, and supportive environments to make these things possible.
Together, we can accelerate the reduction of teen births in this state and serve as a national model for how to work collaboratively on an issue that many see as intractable, but that we see as having possible solutions. Teen pregnancy prevention has significant game-changing potential for young people that cannot be denied, and all of us are better for it.
Jane Fonda is founder of the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power & Potential (GCAPP). Melissa Kottke, M.D., is director of the Jane Fonda Center at Emory University. Kim M. Nolte is vice president of programs and training at GCAPP.