Traverse City Record-Eagle

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April 14, 2014

Task force takes long look at teen pregnancy

TRAVERSE CITY — Pregnant teens are an "invisible" population.

"They may drop out of school, they may not have access to transportation and they're often marginalized," said Marjorie Rich, the Women's Resource Center Doula Client Advocate.

That makes securing the basics priority one. Diapers, nutritious food, health information, safe housing — service providers in Grand Traverse County tackle the fundamentals to get the teens and their babies on track.

But trench work doesn't touch the root causes of the problem in Grand Traverse County.

Rich launched the Teen Pregnancy Task Force this year to take the long view of the issue. The group is in its infancy — its second meeting was April 10 — and is funded by a $5,000 Rotary Charities grant focused on the collective impact of gathering all the people who work with pregnant teens and their families in the same room.

Phase One involves sharing data, crunching numbers and creating a game plan. Phase Two will implement the plan, perhaps this summer, Rich said.

Disturbing ties between intimate partner violence and gaps in sex education already popped up on the group's radar.

That the Center for Disease Control found 83 percent of teen mothers ages 15-17 did not receive "formal" sex education before their first experience is "shocking" and shameful," said Amy Leiva, of the Grand Traverse Health Department.

"It's a conundrum," said Abby Jordan of the STEP program. "As service providers we know that a lot of these kids can't talk to their parents, for one reason or another, but as parents it's awful to think about."

Yet help can come from unlikely places as reality shows like MTV's "16 and Pregnant," along with easier access to contraception, contribute to declining teen birth rates overall, Rich said. Teen births are down 52 percent since 1991, according to a 2014 Brookings Institution report.

Mapping out Grand Traverse County's prevention and support services — from after-school activities to day care support — is the next order of business at the group's meeting May 1.

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