An Informed Approach to Teen Pregnancy
The tide in Spartanburg County began to turn about eight years ago, when a group of organizations held a meeting to address the area’s stubborn health deficiencies. They concluded that the only way to make real progress was to align their separate missions and work together. The Road to Better Health Coalition—now a mosaic of 40 diverse organizations—was born. The coalition’s first act was to use existing health data to set priorities.
The data analysis brought to the forefront difficult issues such as teen pregnancy and the lack of behavioral health services that many of the organizations had long avoided. Tackling such problems as a coalition meant sharing responsibility, says Renée Romberger, vice president of Community Health Policy and Strategy at the Spartanburg Regional Healthcare System.
“The more we worked together, the more we realized that we needed each other,” she says.
The first target was teen pregnancy.
Wanda Cheeks, a recreation specialist for the City of Spartanburg who also plays the role of community leader, mentor, innovator and motivator, recalls why she got involved. Cheeks gave birth to her first child at age 17, her second at 19 and her third at 21. Taking on so much responsibility at such a young age was tough, she says. That’s why she has long worked on teen pregnancy prevention.
“That was my biggest mistake, not knowing, having three pregnancies back to back to back,” Cheeks says. “A lot of the parents now were young parents themselves, and it’s not that they don’t care, but it’s that they don’t know how to educate. These kids, too, need to know you can’t roll the dice and see if you’ll get pregnant.”
A community-wide approach to teen pregnancy prevention was adopted to include schools, community-based organizations, healthcare providers, the faith community, key leaders, parents, and young people. The effort was age-appropriate and included abstinence-based programs as well as access to contraception for sexually active youth. Unique partners—churches, the city recreation department, barber shops, community center staff and others—worked together to coach parents and young people about how to talk to each other about love, sex and relationships.
Talking about teen pregnancy prevention “became a norm, not a taboo subject,” Cheeks says.
In 2012, the community and funders came together to re-energize The Point, a long underutilized teen health center run by the Spartanburg County Health Department. Rebranded, renovated and refocused, it is today considered one of South Carolina’s premier teen health centers.
Teamwork across ideologies, an openness to partnerships with organizations at every level of government and a willingness to include area youth in the pregnancy reduction campaign have made a difference.
The resulting numbers in Spartanburg County are impressive: By looking to data, listening to and letting youth lead, rates have receded by 50 percent from 2010 to 2016 for all 15-19 year olds, and what’s more, Spartanburg has closed its gap among black and white females. By 2010, nearly every teen who visited The Point—97 percent of them—said they regularly used birth control, including Long Acting Reversible Contraceptives (LARC). The number of teens using LARC went from 0 percent in 2010 to 37 percent two years later as a result of the dynamic work of an outreach coordinator and clinic staffers who introduce the contraceptive as a first option to patients.
“We are realistic. Some teens will be sexually active, but it’s easier to talk to them now,” Cheeks says. “They also now know they can feel safe coming to us.”
A Holistic and Whole-Hearted Approach