Council tackles teen pregnancy at forum

CNJ Staff Photo: Tony Bullocks
Sallie Foster, chairman of the Maternal and Child Health Council of Curry County, gives the opening presentation during Thursday’s Teen Pregnancy Summit at the Clovis Civic Center.

By Marlena Hartz: CNJ staff writer

Evidence poured from the women in the room: A social service agent whose youngest client is a pregnant 11-year-old, a young woman who had her first child at the age of 17.

“As a teenager,” that woman said, “you think it will never happen to you.”

More than two dozen women, mostly social service agents, paused from their daily routines Thursday to attend the Maternal and Child Health Council teen pregnancy forum at the Clovis Civic Center.

They confronted a county that is failing its youth.

Curry County has the second highest teen pregnancy rate in the state, according to New Mexico Vital Records and Health Statistics. In 2004, 144 girls ages 15-19 had babies in Curry County.

“There is a problem in our county,” Chairman of the Maternal and Child Health Council Sallie Foster said.

The Health Council — an arm of the Curry County Wellness Council established in 1991 — aims to reduce the number of births by teens in Curry County by seven this year.

Foster said she cannot explain why Curry County’s teen pregnancy rate is so high.

“That is still a mystery,” she said. “There may be lots of things that affect the rate.”

Attendants of the forum pinpointed and passionately discussed three areas that might be to blame:
• Lack of proper sex education for teens;
• Lack of activities for youth in the area;
• Lack of emotional support for teen girls.

According to Terry Teti, coordinator of the Health Council and executive director of Community Resources in Portales, it is imperative teens are provided abstinence-based sex education, which encourages abstinence until marriage, but also teaches students about birth control methods and sexually transmitted diseases.

“In this geographical area, which is faith-based, no one wants to believe their children are doing this (having sex),” Teti said.

“Parents need to become realistic. Even if their child isn’t engaging in sex, they are confronted by it every day and they need ammunition to protect themselves,” she said.

In Clovis Municipal Schools, sex education is not taught until junior high school, and then largely by nurses, according to school officials. At Clovis High, students are taught about birth control, school officials said.

Parents have the option of excluding their children from sex education, but rarely do, according to Clovis Municipal Schools Superintendent Rhonda Seidenwurm.
The Maternal and Child Health Council plans to hold steadfast to its goal of reducing teen pregnancy in Curry County, Foster said.

Armed with information gleaned from Thursday’s forum, Foster said the Council will continue its work — educating, gaining support, gathering evidence, and lobbying for teen pregnancy prevention program(s) in schools and the community.

“Instead of being in our own small silos, we want to bring everyone together and have one large success,” said Terri Marney, Curry County Wellness Council coordinator.