Taking Back Our Neighborhood: Babies raising babies

By Ursula Madden - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - Experts estimate crime-related costs of teen childbearing amount to $1 billion each year.  In Shelby County, the annual cost is $44 million.

The crying, the cost and the constant care.  At the end of a 12-week program through Girls, Inc. designed to convince teens not to get pregnant, young girls get their hands on digital bundles of joy.

Girls, Inc. drives the point home with an overnight retreat called "Baby, Think It Over."  It is not real, but it is realistic and frustration quickly builds for many of the teenage girls in the programs.

Before the retreat, there is classroom work.  Once a week, the girls meet to talk about sex and consequences.  In one exercise, the girls were asked to categorize the risk of contracting the virus that causes AIDS.

Deobrah Hester, the director of Girls, Inc., said the odds are stacked against young mothers.

"Girls who get pregnant and have kids before they finish their education," Hester said, "statistics and odds are just not in their favor."

Numbers from the Tennessee Department of Health show in 2008, nearly 3,200 girls between ages 10 and 19 got pregnant  That accounts for 20 percent of all pregnancies in Shelby County for that year.  The national rate is 11 percent.  Broken down by race, 545 were white, 2,589 were black.

According to the Urban Institute of Memphis, half of pregnant teens in Shelby County are not married and 85 percent of teen mothers live below the poverty level, making less than $15,000 a year.

Tiffany Holloway, the instructor for the Girls, Inc. "Preventing Adolescent Pregnancy" program, teaches the course at several schools all over Memphis.  She spends a full year at Booker T. Washington High School.

"Most of them live in the housing development across the street, so a lot of times what they see if violence, teen pregnancy, just single-parent homes, low income, gangs, drugs," Holloway said.  "They wee more than my other girls see.  Therefore, their mindset is different from the other girls.  So it takes more work with them, because of their environment, and what they see and they are exposed to."

Kathy Brantly, 15, is working to make sure her reality is not like the friends she has grown up with.

"I have one friend who had a baby when she was in the 7th grade," Brantly said, "and the rest of my friends just went on having kids.  I'm like the only one of my friends who went to school and didn't have a child, or two."

MonaLisa Houston, 17, has a friend who is a teen mother.  She said she is getting a lot out of the classes.

"I've learned how to let a man treat you the right way, say no to drugs and sex and not get pregnant at an early age," Houston said.  "And talk to someone if you need their help."

At the "Baby, Think It Over" retreat, help is what there young girls need.  They each have picked up their realistic life scenarios that spell out minimum wage jobs, abusive relationships, high rent for substandard housing and even babies born with handicaps.

This bad situation lasts one night only, unless these girls make a choice that forces them to trade in the mechanical baby for the real thing.

To learn more about Girls, Inc. or to donate money to the organization, click here.

To learn more about The Urban Child Institute, click here.

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