Program Helps Teen Moms Prevent Another Pregnancy
Teenage girls who have a baby are at high risk of having another child while they're still young. They're also much more likely than other teens to drop out of high school. Planned Parenthood has a program designed to help teen moms finish school and delay additional pregnancies.
It's a Thursday afternoon at the Malcolm X Library in Southeast San Diego. Three teenage girls with their babies in tow slip into a small room.
Group leaders Marcy Aguayo and Chrissy Cmorik greet the girls and shoot the breeze for a few moments. After everyone settles in, Aguayo kicks off the meeting of the Teen Success program. It's designed to help teen moms finish school and delay additional pregnancies.
"So we're gonna talk a little bit about change in your guys' life today," she began. "So some of the changes that you guys might have either going through, or maybe might have already gone through in the past that were pretty significant, that have had a big impact on your life."
17-year-old Carla said giving up drugs has been big for her.
"'Cause before I had fun with drugs and alcohol and everything, and I had friends," Carla said. "I had a life. Now I don't. Well, I do. I do, and I have my daughter, but it's a different life. A sober life."
Camille, who's also 17, said she struggles with sobriety, too. But she thinks it's for the better.
"'Cause I'm sober and I'm not smoking weed or drinking alcohol, so I know my true self," Camille said. "When I'm drunk or anything I put on a face, like to show who I'm not."
These kids have had rough lives: absent fathers, trouble with the law. Now they have a baby to care for, too.
The Teen Success program tries to help teen moms make good life choices. It was launched more than 20 years ago at a Planned Parenthood chapter in San Jose. It's in its third year in San Diego.
The girls get together once a week to talk about their lives and share their struggles. They learn about parenting and setting monthly goals, how to write a resume and look for a job.
Chrissy Cmorik oversees the program. During group discussions, she offers the girls a lot of encouragement.
"They have enough people around that are telling them that they've made mistakes, that they're not gonna amount to anything," Cmorik said. "That's the last thing that they need from us. As an ideal family unit, it's about building people up, and focusing on the strengths, and admitting that mistakes happen. And what happens then, is you dust yourself off, you get up, and start over. And that's the message we like to share with the girls."
Cmorik said it's all about helping the girls develop the skills they need to forge ahead.
"We're not here to coddle them, to say, oh, come count on us," she pointed out. "We're here to help them through, to give them some resources that they might not have known are out there, and to approach them in a very honest way."
One of the things the girls learn is to develop self-esteem.
Carla said as a teen mom, people are always looking down on her.
"They're like, oh yeah, you're never gonna graduate, you're gonna be a lowlife," she complained. "They always say that. And I'm going to school right now, that's something they don't know. But when I have my high school diploma, I'm gonna shove it in their face."
Fourteen-year-old Irma said people judge her all the time.
Marcy Aguayo admitted the girls only come in once a week. But Aguayo said she keeps in touch with them through text messaging and phone calls. And to keep things moving forward, she and Cmorik work closely with the kids' teachers at school.
"And so we all have the same messages for them," Aguayo said, "and so keeping all that positive reinforcement. I think they love knowing that these adults care about them and think great things about them. And that's a motivation, as well as their kids, I mean that's the number one motivation that these girls have."
Twenty-five percent of girls who give birth before they're 18 have another child within two years. Only two percent of girls have another baby while they're enrolled in Teen Success. One of the reasons is they're required to be on birth control while in the program.