Monday, July 28, 2014

It Takes a Village

It takes a whole village to raise a child, but...

it begins with a connection.  This week marked the release of the Annie E. Casey Foundation sponsored 2014 Kids Count Data Book, highlighting state-by-state progress, or lack thereof, around issues affecting children like education, health, poverty and safety. Thanks to our friends and colleagues at the Children's Trust of South Carolina, the agency responsible for South Carolina's data release, we are able to consider the well-being of children on a state and county level. South Carolina ranks 45th in the country for overall child well-being, which reflects very little progress in a positive direction. More than a quarter of a million children live in poverty, which contributes to the state's overall stagnation around health, education and the economy. The foundation is weak and even when we consider "bright spots" like teen birth rates (which have fallen by 47% over the past two decades), we realize just how fragile progress remains. 

The fragility of progress, and our often short attention spans, places unique responsibility on all of us - from youth-serving professionals and advocates to parents, faith leaders and government officials. I truly believe that most people care about children and their families, especially those who are in poverty, sick or marginalized in some other capacity. So, if most people care, then why do we continue to see such negative social and economic outcomes? Well, of course the answer is complicated, but I strongly believe the answer at least begins with our ability to genuinely engage and connect with each other.

Staff members from the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy were able to join the Children's Trust of South Carolina during a couple of media activities this past week and, as I am sure happens every year, the media wanted to know "now what?"  We continue to have these data releases -notably, in the near future, the SC Campaign will work with state partners to produce data specific to teen births and the connection to other social issues. But, how will we use this data to inform effective strategies, to collaborate (like the Children's Trust of SC and the SC Campaign) and to CONNECT with the community at large?  How will we remind each other that we are ALL connected and impacted when a child grows up in poverty, when a child is consistently behind academically, when a young person becomes a parent, or when a family goes without healthcare? We should also consider the connections and overlaps between these issues so that strategies for improvement are comprehensive and reflect all of the factors that contribute to poverty, educational attainment, and health, etc.

Of course we cannot provide all of the answers with one data release or via a blog. But we can engage each other through community forums, volunteer efforts, mentoring and individual support for causes that effectively reach the homeless, the working poor, young parents, and so many others who often just need a stronger foundation from which to progress. 

Let's be that village we so often reference in our speeches and conference themes. Let's also remember this great African proverb is only a cliché if we fail to make the connections necessary to genuinely affect change.
*It takes a whole village to raise a child - Igbo and Yoruba (Nigeria) Proverb

Monday, July 21, 2014

Giving teens some space

It’s no secret that the Hartsville Boys and Girls club does great work, but the Teen Center needed a serious face lift. So when the Midlands class of the spring 2014 Diversity Leadership Institute was choosing a project to work on in Hartsville, S.C., the Boys and Girls club seemed like an obvious choice.

“We had three people in our group from the Darlington/Hartsville community and another who grew up there,” said Doug Taylor, Chief Program Officer at the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and a member of the Midlands class. “It was a known need in the community that the Boys and Girls Club building was not in good shape.”

Over the past three months the group has spent time transforming the drab brown and white Teen Center into the ultimate teen hangout. The space is now an inviting bright blue, with new couches, a TV, and even study stations for the teens to comfortably do their homework. The teens will get their first peek at their new space on Thursday, when the teen center will hold its grand reopening.

But the Boys and Girls Club is about more than just giving teens a place to be. It’s about preparing our young people to be leaders in their community.

“Programs like this are so important because kids need access to caring adults when parents or guardians are at work,” Taylor said. “They need to be engaged and not just sitting around wasting time.”

That’s why Taylor’s group also made sure the Boys and Girls club staff had the resources they need to educate the teens on important life skills.

For Taylor, that meant working with the staff this summer to implement a teen pregnancy prevention curriculum, Making Proud Choices. The curriculum emphasizes safer sex by teaching teens about abstinence, condoms, communicating with their partner, and strategies to delay initiating sex.

The Boys and Girls Club staff will be able to sustain the program long after Taylor’s group has graduated, thanks to continued training from the SC Campaign and funds from the Department of Health and Environmental Control's Personal Responsibility and Education Program.

Taylor is confident the project can be sustained, thanks to the passion he found in the community.

“The best part was getting to meet and work with individuals who are committed to making their community better and who can follow through,” Taylor said. “It wasn’t ‘why don’t we try this, why don’t we try that’ they’re out there making it happen.”

by Kylee Perez, Communications Specialist, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Farewell to the SC Campaign!

Two years ago, I embarked on a journey to enhance my understanding of pregnancy prevention. I was approaching my graduation from my doctoral program at the Arnold School of Public Health at University of South Carolina and this amazing postdoctoral fellowship position presented itself at the SC Campaign. I had not worked directly in teen pregnancy prevention before, but had extensive experience in HIV prevention. After researching the SC Campaign, I knew that this position would be an ideal next step for my academic and professional career.

In June 2012, I officially became a part of the SC Campaign staff and managed the two-year collective impact project funded by The Duke Endowment. At first, I thought this position would be similar to an internship, little did I know that I was going to be responsible for coordinating schedules, creating PowerPoint presentations, developing meeting agendas, and facilitating team meetings. Right out the gate, I had a role at the SC Campaign. I was fully embraced by the staff and senior leadership of the organization and truly felt like I was a part of the team. My thoughts and ideas were always taken into consideration and some my ideas even came into fruition in the form of a webinar focused on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) youth health and a corresponding publication. Additionally, I was able to interact with partners and stakeholders from across the state and learn about what investments are truly needed to address teen pregnancy in South Carolina. On the horizon, there is a new document being developed by the SC Campaign that will assist funders and organizations that want to invest in teen pregnancy prevention. Knowing that I contributed to the creation of this document is the culmination of my efforts and it feels good.

From the start, I felt like this postdoctoral fellowship position was a nice blend between research and public health practice. Given my background in qualitative research, I had the opportunity to conduct focus groups with parents of middle school students to examine their perception of school-based teen pregnancy prevention programs. I was responsible for developing the research protocol, research questions, facilitating the focus groups, and analyzing the data. One of the highlights of my experience at the SC Campaign, was when this research was accepted for publication in the Journal of Sex Education: Sexuality, Society, and Learning’s special issue dedicated to Dr. Douglas Kirby, an adolescent sexual health researcher who I have always admired.

I knew from the start that this was only a two-year position, but I never prepared myself for all of the knowledge and skills that I would acquire from the SC Campaign in that short period of time. I served as an adjunct faculty member at South University, became a Certified Health Education Specialist, and completed the United Way’s Blueprint for Leadership program. Having the opportunity to work with a staff as talented as the SC Campaign’s, I now feel I am equipped to advocate for teen pregnancy prevention and will continue to do so as my professional career develops.

This postdoctoral fellowship has provided a solid foundation for my career. The insight and feedback that I received from fellow staff was invaluable and for that I thank everyone at the SC Campaign for their input in my professional development. And on that note, I bid you farewell!

by India Rose, former Post Doctoral Fellow, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Monday, July 7, 2014

Freedom isn’t free. And neither is birth control.

The fireworks stands are popping up on every corner reminding us of the holiday that celebrates freedom and independence. However, a recent Supreme Court decision was quick to remind us that individual freedom- freedom to decide how to plan for child-bearing and freedom to decide what is best for our bodies is often not free. On June 30, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that closely held corporations, such as Hobby Lobby, cannot be required to provide contraceptive coverage to its employees if they object based on religious reasons. Our CEO, Forrest Alton, released this statement about the decision, “…when that decision-making autonomy is taken away and barriers are introduced, whether those be cost or otherwise, it makes it less likely women will choose to use the most effective methods of contraception consistently.” So while many women work in positions that will allow them access to long-acting reversible contraception (i.e. the IUD-intrauterine device) at a free or reduced cost, women who work at Hobby Lobby will not have the freedom to do the same. Of course, they can pay for it out-of-pocket but given the long-acting nature of these methods, the cost is often upwards of $500.

I find myself in a position that some may think is contradictory: I think the Supreme Court’s decision was wrong, and I am also a Christian. So where does that leave me? Does that mean that I am a lesser Christian than the executives at Hobby Lobby? I like to think that I am a Jesus-loving, women's rights supporting, Hillary in 2016 believing, firearm toting, equal rights supporting Christian. And no, I don't think that phrase is an oxymoron.

First of all, contraception is not just used by “promiscuous teens” (as you will hear some people say) but it is used by an overwhelming majority of women – young and old. The reasons for use vary, some women use contraception for the benefits to their skin and complexion, while others use it for regulating menstrual cycles, while the majority of women use it for preventing pregnancies or family planning. The long-acting reversible contraception methods (i.e., IUD, the shot, the implant), are used by many women in monogamous, exclusive relationships or marriages so they can plan for children or allow adequate space between pregnancies to help decrease the chances of complications during and after pregnancy.

While I am always in support of anyone standing up for what they think is right (even though I may not agree), it seems that if Hobby Lobby wants to use religious opposition to some forms of birth control, doesn’t that mean that they should also refuse to cover medications for diabetes and high blood pressure caused by obesity since gluttony is also a sin? Or refuse to cover psychological services that result from a sin like adultery or pornography addiction? Or perhaps refuse to cover medication that is only needed because of a sin - like medication needed because of experience with drug abuse and addiction?

Again, don’t get me wrong I am in full support of someone taking a stance for their religious freedom but shouldn’t it be an all or nothing stance? It isn’t fair to Christians as a whole when someone picks and choose the parts of the Bible that they want to enforce and then make a public stance based on religious beliefs. This type of “cherry-picking” Bible verses when it is convenient or comfortable supports the general consensus that all Christians are hypocritical and are only known for what they are against, and not what they are for (FYI –I believe my main man Jesus was for love, tolerance & forgiveness).

So as the holiday weekend approaches and we become consumed with fireworks, cookouts and dysfunctional family gatherings, consider this: the decision made by the Supreme Court directly impacted the freedom of a group of women who are employed with Hobby Lobby but even more so this decision was made loud and clear to all women who now feel more vulnerable to having their individual liberties stripped away by their employer. As anyone with a child knows, or anyone that has ever been around children, the ability to easily access and afford effective birth control options impacts everyone, not just us lucky ones born with a uterus.

Check out this TIME Magazine article to learn more about IUDs. 

by Sarah Kershner, It's Your Game Project Coordinator, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy