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Two years ago, Mobile County Health Department in partnership with the University of South Alabama (USA) began to focus on teen pregnancy and teen birth rates. Their main questions were: 1) Why are the teen pregnancy and birth rates in Mobile so high; 2) How do they impact our community; and 3) What can we do to reduce the teen pregnancy and birth rates?
After reviewing research and conducting focus groups that linked teen pregnancy to a host of other critical social issues—poverty and income, overall child well-being, out-of-wedlock births, responsible fatherhood, health issues, education, child welfare, and other risky behavior—USA and the Mobile County Health Department brought the issue to Mobile United, a group of leaders of various groups that includes education, private and public businesses, and health care. Mobile United partnered with USA to educate the community about the importance of teen pregnancy and its impact on the community. Teen pregnancy research was presented to community groups including the Mobile Bar Association and the general Mobile United membership. Included in the presentations were local data, such as teen birth rates by zip codes in Mobile County. This helped the community see how the issues of teen pregnancy and teen birth were community-wide issues.
To reach a wide range of youth in their prevention efforts, USA and Mobile United began to focus on the implementation of science-based approaches to preventing teen pregnancy in Mobile County. USA and Mobile United decided to work at the grass-root levels within the community to advocate for teen pregnancy prevention programs that were science-based and proven effective.
Reaching out to the Community
During the outreach to the community, Mobile United’s Health Services Task Force Committee and USA faculty contacted the Alabama Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (Alabama Campaign) to learn more about science-based approaches and invited the Alabama Campaign to present an overview of science-based approaches to prevent teen pregnancy programs to the Committee. The Alabama Campaign was also asked to help identify curricula that would best fit the community.
The Alabama Campaign teamed up with Mobile United, USA, and the Alabama Rural Action Commission, a group established by Alabama’s Governor Bob Riley, to improve quality of life in rural areas, for the purposes of gathering data and defining the scope of teen pregnancy and births in Mobile County. Next, Mobile United and USA, in partnership with other agencies, convened a community-wide forum in April of 2009. A diverse group of community leaders, including faith leaders, educators and health professionals, participated in the forum and left with the realization that high teen pregnancy and birth rates were issues in their community. They were motivated to begin the steps to assess the community, identify appropriate programs and implement selected science-based approaches to prevent teen pregnancy.
The Alabama Campaign, through a collaborative project with funding made possible by Johnson and Johnson to Healthy Teen Network (HTN), coordinated and hosted a training to provide knowledge on reviewing and selecting science-based curriculum for use in Mobile County. Through this training there was increased understanding of the issues and community-based interest in implementing these science-based prevention programs grew. In September 2009, the participants from community-based organizations selected three curricula to implement in Mobile County—Reducing the Risk1, Making a Difference! An Abstinence-Based Approach to HIV/STD and Teen Pregnancy Prevention2, and Making Proud Choices! A Safer Sex Approach to HIV/STD and Teen Pregnancy Prevention.3 The training was followed by a training of educators, facilitated by HTN, in March 2010. Having such a diverse group of individuals from various community-based organizations participate in the process was an important achievement for USA, Mobile United, and the Alabama Campaign. The teamwork demonstrated by the community was tremendous—having everyone come together ready for action took commitment from the community leaders and community-based organizations. Following the training, the community felt empowered and passionate to support one another in this effort. All participants voiced a desire to continue to advocate for the prevention of teenage pregnancy and to support teens in health decision-making.
The community-based organizations that participated in the September and March training events (USA, Mobile United, and the Mobile County Health Department and the Alabama Campaign) have started a local teen pregnancy prevention coalition in Mobile County with the goal of having a network of youth service professionals working together to reduce pregnancy and birth rates in the Mobile area. Also, the community groups are working together to capture the momentum and change the culture of discussing and addressing teen pregnancy prevention in a medically-accurate and age-appropriate manner. The group has expressed understanding that teen pregnancy prevention is not one dimensional; affects everyone in the community and county; and requires a collaborative approach. This culture change and the implementation of the science-based curricula in the community may lead to a willingness of the local school district to implement science-based curricula in the classroom. USA and the Alabama Campaign are also working to assess parents’ attitudes to gain an understanding of how they feel about prevention efforts to better address the parents’ perspectives in an effort to gain their support of science-based teen pregnancy prevention curricula.
With strong leadership at the community level, Mobile County is successfully raising awareness about the issues of teen pregnancy and teen childbearing; and gaining support for implementation of science-based teen pregnancy prevention curriculum. While facing challenges to implement science-based curriculum in schools, a number of community based organizations in Mobile County are addressing teen pregnancy prevention efforts with zeal. It is through the work at the community level, the support of community leaders and community-based organizations that teen pregnancy prevention efforts are highly regarded and are moving forward.
1 Reducing the Risk is a curriculum-based program. For more information on this program please refer to Emerging Answers 2007.
2 Making a Difference! An Abstinence-Based Approach to HIV/STD and Teen Pregnancy Prevention (1998) is a curriculum-based program. For more information on this program please refer to What Works and Emerging Answers 2007.
3 Making Proud Choices! A Safer Sex Approach to HIV/STD and Teen Pregnancy Prevention (1998) is a curriculum-based program. For more information on this program please refer to What Works and Emerging Answers 2007.