Opinion: United Way is making a difference


May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and it's an opportunity to take a moment to reflect on the accomplishments of prevention educators in our community. Since the year 2000, Sumter County's teen births have decreased from 387 per thousand to 125 per thousand, according to the county data report from the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. This is a direct reflection of a concerted effort to educate and discourage early sexual exploration of youth between the ages of 9 and 19 in our county.

You may say teens should not be having sex, and we agree. While we all would love for youth to abstain from sexual exploration before marriage, not every young person will get that memo. Some think once they have finished high school their actions don't matter or nothing will happen to them. However, one student getting pregnant or getting a sexually transmitted disease prior to adulthood is one too many, and it impacts the economic stability of the county and could send the teen into a life of poverty. A premature pregnancy often begins or continues a cycle of poverty.

Children born to teen mothers experience a wide range of problems. They are more likely to:

- Have a higher risk for low birth weight and infant mortality;

- Have lower levels of emotional support and cognitive stimulation;

- Have fewer skills and be less prepared to learn when they enter kindergarten;

- Have behavioral problems and chronic medical conditions;

- Rely more heavily on publicly funded health care;

- Have higher rates of foster care placement;

- Be incarcerated at some time during adolescence;

- Have lower school achievement and drop out of high school;

- Give birth as a teen; or

- Be unemployed or underemployed as a young adult.


For example, Jane became a single parent at age 16 (age of consent in South Carolina) and did not finish school. Upon dropping out of school to take care of her child, Jane does not have a job, and thus she has no income. Therefore, she has to rely on public assistance such as public housing if she needs a place to stay and food from the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Women, Infants and Children program for her and the baby. Because she does not have insurance, she will receive Medicaid for health care services. If Jane's life continues on the current cycle, when her child is enrolled in school she may not be prepared and could fall behind academically, leading to repeating a grade or two. Once Jane's child reaches high school, she may be older than her peers, and the potential for dropping out increases, as does teen pregnancy. The cycle of poverty continues.

This equation is often one sided. Most often young men are not considered nor encouraged to participate when discussing teen pregnancy, but they contribute to the issue. The female gets pregnant and has the responsibility to care for the baby. The father may go on to father other children without any real consequences unless he has had a DNA test (at a private cost of $600 or more) and has been required to pay child support.

In 2015 in the United States, teen fatherhood occurred at a rate of 10.4 births per 1,000 to men in the 15- to 19-year-old age group (https://bit.ly/2Hk5jqZ). Young men are vital factors when discussing teen pregnancy and early parenting, which can lead to poverty. Males should be included in contraceptive decision-making conversations, which will lead to a decrease in pregnancies and STDs.

Fatherhood is not for the faint of heart. Prior to the child being born or while the mother is still in the hospital giving birth, the unmarried father can sign a Paternity Acknowledgement Affidavit, and the mother must sign as well stating he is the biological father. At this time, the father has a say in the naming of the child. If he signs the birth certificate but does not sign the Paternity Acknowledgement Affidavit, this does not declare him as the biological father. If the affidavit is not signed in the hospital and the father wishes to sign it later, there is a $15 charge. If the mother is unwilling to sign the paternity affidavit, the father can complete a Non-Custodial Parent Application for Services at the Department of Social Services for a $25 fee, and the DNA test is free and is accurate. It is in the best interest of a teen father to establish paternity when possible (https://bit.ly/2Hj6s1W).

As a teen father, the young man is:

- Legally responsible for any child fathered.

- Able to get a DNA test at no cost anytime up to age 18.

- In some cases able to get custody of the child.

- Going to pay child support even if the father thinks he can't afford it, is a student or joins the military.

- To pay child support even if he doesn't want to, or the money can be taken out of his paycheck, income taxes or any other sources of income.

- Legally responsible to pay and by failing to pay child support his credit may be damaged, and he could lose professional driving privileges.

Being a father is a joy when you are financially and emotionally ready for the responsibility.

(Men, Babies and the Law Brochure, JourneyWorks Publishing; Santa Cruz, California).

Currently, young adults 18-19 years old are the cause for high rates of teen pregnancy in Sumter County. Many of these young people have finished high school and see themselves as adults, but they are financially immature. For the year 2017, 77 pregnancies were in Sumter County youth 18-19 years old who may require federal, state or local assistance, which increases the burden on taxpayers. At the highest rate of teen pregnancy (2000), South Carolina paid $570 million in public assistance for families started by teens, resulting in $824 million lost as a result of an uneducated workforce (S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy).

In 2015, Sumter County could have seen $998,000 in public savings if the 114 unplanned pregnancies resulting in births among teens were avoided (https://bit.ly/2paGmUF).

Each May during Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy join organizations across the country to raise awareness about teen pregnancy prevention. National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month highlights the historic declines in the rates of teen pregnancy and births in the United States. While South Carolina teen birth rates have declined by 70% from 1991-2017, our state still has the 16th-highest teen birth rate in the United States (2017) (https://www.teenpregnancysc.org/theissue).

United Way of Sumter, Clarendon and Lee Counties has invested in pregnancy prevention and youth development for the past 19 years. United Way continues to find ways to reach the youth of the county while working with Sumter School District and local colleges through community health fairs and celebrations, including the faith-based community. When teens are given proper information, encouragement and counseling, the pregnancies will continue to decrease while increasing the financial savings to Sumter County. United Way is attempting to avert the pregnancies for the undecided youth with information and resources. In 2015, teen pregnancy for the state was down by more than 7,444 pregnancies, a $8.5 million savings in public funding (https://bit.ly/2LCXQHE).

An investment in teen pregnancy prevention is an investment in the sustainability of the community, which is achieved through improved educational attainment and employment and a decrease in STDs and pregnancies. It is to the benefit of parents, youth, the faith community, schools and businesses to pull together to prevent teen pregnancy; we cannot do it alone.

If you would like more information or to donate to this cause, send your check or money order to United Way of Sumter, Clarendon and Lee Counties, 215 N. Washington St., Sumter SC 29150. If you are a male and would love to make a difference in a child's life as a volunteer mentor, call (803) 773-7935, extension 113, or visit the above address.

Creating a brighter future for children and the community is an investment on the front end.

Melanie Dees is the director of the Diamonds Youth Development Program with United Way of Sumter, Clarendon and Lee Counties.