Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Perfect Fit: Teen Pregnancy Prevention and Public Health

Usually when I tell people that I work in the field of public health, they naturally assume that I focus on physical fitness, diet and nutrition (these are obviously not the people that know of my love for Little Debbie Swiss Rolls).  However, people normally do not assume that my focus is in teen pregnancy prevention.  Why is it that people do not connect the dots between public health and unintended teen pregnancy?  Teen pregnancy is associated with multiple social issues impacting the public health of a community, family and individual.  Teen pregnancy is linked to foster care, early birth weight, premature birth, receiving welfare, and lowered educational achievement, just to name a few.  Here are the facts:
  • Young teen mothers (17 and younger) are 2.2 times more likely to have a child placed in foster care than mothers who delay childbearing until age 20 or 21.
  • Teen mothers ages 18-19 are about one-third more likely to have a child placed in foster care than mothers who had their first child at age 20 or 21. 
  •  Infants of teen mothers are at increased risk of being born prematurely.
  •  Almost half of all teen mothers began receiving welfare within five years of the birth of their first child.
  •  Parenthood is the leading cause of school dropout among teen girls. 
  •  Children of teen mothers are 50 percent more likely to repeat a grade, less likely to complete high school and have lower performance on standardized tests. 
  •  Less than half of mothers age 17 and younger ever graduate from high school.
 Additionally, teen pregnancy impacts the physical, emotional, psychological and financial health of the teen mother, teen father, involved families and community.  April is Public Health month, followed by Teen Pregnancy Prevention month in May.  So this spring as you are watching young people enjoy some of the pivotal “firsts” in their lifetime such as going to prom or walking across the stage to accept their diploma, consider that in 2010 there were 6,847 teens (15-19 years old) who gave birth in South Carolina, putting them at an increased risk for drop out and the other negative societal issues as listed above.
So why should we consider teen pregnancy as a critical part of addressing public health?  Because the impact on the community, family and individual IS public health.

By Sarah Kershner, It's Your Game Project Coordinator at the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, Sarah can be reached at This blog was also featured in the National Public Health week blog.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Greatest Love of All

“I believe the children are our future;
Teach them well and let them lead the way;
Show them all the beauty they possess inside;
Give them a sense of pride to make it easier;
Let the children's laughter remind us how we used to be...” 
- Whitney Houston

Early this year, the world stood still as we mourned the death of influential pop star and musical talent Ms. Whitney Elizabeth Houston. In the subsequent aftermath of her passing, I participated in several heated debates about her public life. However, I've noticed that all the people I've debated  Houston's life and death with have one thing in common - we all adore her version of "The Greatest Love of All".  Written in the late 70’s, the song is over 30 years old, but managed to find its way into my professional passion. 

No longer a young  person, I am now consumed by reports, deadlines, emails and observations in my professional life, I sometimes forget what it felt like when I was a teenager. Sometimes I was confident and secure in my choices at that age. At other times I wandered aimlessly and was confused about what to do next.

Fortunately, I was surrounded by a team of parents, church members and school counselors who equipped me with the tools I needed to make proud and responsible choices. 

This is what I love about the evidence-based program, Making A Difference. Two of the program's goals are to:
  •  Increase participants’ ability to identify realistic goals for their future
  •  Increase participants’ confidence about making proud and responsible decisions to protect themselves and their community from STD’s and unintended pregnancy.
To some, these goals may be just the lyrics to another pop song, but to me it is a charge to do my very best while working for the young people of South Carolina.  Teaching the children of this state about their potential and helping them find their senses of pride will ensure all our futures. This realization has given me an imperative I'm passionate about - Making A Difference is one of the "Greatest Loves of All."
- Meredith M. Talford, MPH, CHES, is the Upstate Training and Technical Assistance Specialist. E-mail Meredith at

Friday, April 13, 2012

Why I Walked a Mile

Yesterday, I walked a mile. I walked a mile across cobble stones and pavement. I walked a mile in 3” platform heels. 

I walked a mile as a male wearing those heels. I walked a mile in her shoes to raise awareness for sexual assault in the Midlands of South Carolina. In 2007 there were over 1,500 arrests for sex-related crimes in South Carolina according to Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands. And those are just the numbers of reported crimes that reached an arrest. What about all the crimes that are never reported to police? There’s no way of knowing how many of our neighbors, friends, coworkers, and family members have experienced unwanted sexual contact. That’s why I walk, so that those without voices will have someone to represent them.

According to approximately 10% of sexual assault survivors are male, but I bet that number is under reported in the US. So I walked a mile in his shoes too, to be a voice for men and boys who don’t feel comfortable to speak out about their difficult experiences as survivors of sexual assault. We teach our young men to be tough, to stay strong, and yet how often do we teach them how to express their feelings and how to speak up when they’ve been wronged?

I walked a mile as a former victim’s advocate who, for more than two years, sat beside victims of sexual assault to help them through the process of healing and if they chose, to find justice for the crimes committed against them. I walked a mile in their shoes so that people who know me, will know that I am still a confidential ear who will listen to them, a shoulder that they can cry on, a resource that they can turn to if they have experiences that they wish to share with someone they can trust.

I walked a mile as an educator helping to teach youth about love, sex, and relationships. So often we don’t talk to youth at all about sex. Sometimes when we do talk about sex, we only tell them not to do it or else. Other times we teach them about how to protect themselves from HIV, STDs, and from unplanned pregnancy. But, how often do we teach our youth actual skills for refusing unwanted sexual activity? How often do we give them a chance to learn and practice how to give a firm “no” and how to respect someone who has said no? How often do we take the time to teach young people how alcohol and drugs can impair their judgment in sexual situations? Instead, we focus on issues like drunk driving; it is easier to talk about that than to talk about sex. Well, I walked a mile to remind youth that consent is sexy, that anything less than a yes is still no, and that it is ok to say no if you are not ready to have sex. I walked a mile to inspire parents to talk to their kids about the difficult topics, just like walking on cobblestone in high heels is difficult. Sometimes we must show courage and step forward to do what is right even when we are embarrassed. Come on parents and trusted adults, will you walk a mile with me?

I personally believe that we must empower our young people to take brave stands to protect themselves, while giving them the skills they need to make healthy and smart choices for their future. Like shopping for the right pair of shoes, not one size fits all. We sometimes have to use different approaches with different young people. We have to educate them on all the options so that they can chose the shoes that fit right, look right, and feel right for them. These empowered and educated young people will then be able to walk many miles without having to wear her shoes, or the shoes of anyone who is a survivor of sexual assault. I walked a mile so that hopefully others in the future, will not have to walk; so that by raising awareness of issues we often don’t address, we can put an end to the problem forever.

That’s why I walked a mile in her shoes yesterday. Next year I’m going to be a team captain and recruit all of my friends to walk with me. Will you walk with me?

by:  Ryan Wilson, Training Coordinator, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.  Reach out to Ryan at

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Denim Day

This week I am using our blog to support another awesome organization in South Carolina – Sexual Trauma Services of the Midlands.  STSM supports survivors in recovery from the trauma associated with sexual assault and abuse and educates the community to identify and prevent sexual violence.

As part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month (April) the organization has many events planned, but one I want to draw your attention to is Denim Day.  On April 25, STSM is asking anyone and everyone to wear jeans to raise awareness and educate the public about rape and sexual assault.

Why jeans?  Glad you asked – this is an important part of the awareness.  Here is the answer straight from STSMs website.

In Italy in 1993, an 18 year old girl was forcefully raped by her 45 year old driving instructor.  The assailant was arrested, convicted, and sentenced to jail. He appealed the sentence, and the case made its way to the Italian Supreme Court. The Supreme Court released the perpetrator and dismissed all charges. The reasoning behind this was “because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans it was no longer rape but consensual sex.” The women in the Italian Parliament wore jeans in protest, and the California Senate and Assembly did the same. Thus, Denim Day was born.

The SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy will be participating in Denim Day and we hope you will join us!

By: Cayci Banks, Director of Communications, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy