Adolescent pregnancy significantly impacts the educational attainment, economic security, and wellbeing of both teen parents and their children as well as teens’ ability to achieve their full potential. Recently the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared “Preventing Teen Pregnancy” one of six “winnable battles” because there is no cure yet to be found – we already know what works. The CDC points to four key strategies: 1) increase public awareness, 2) support evidence-based sex education programs, 3) increase access to contraception, and 4) get parents involved. Despite this seemingly concrete advice, teen pregnancy remains a complex challenge for communities to prioritize and systematically address. Shelby County teen birth rates are significantly higher than rates for the state. For teens 15-17, the county birthrate is 36.7/1000 women aged 15-17, as compared to 24/1000 at the state level. Similarly, for teens 18-19 the county birthrate is 107.8 per 1000 girls aged 18-19, as compared to 85.9/1000 for the state. Moreover, birth rates only tell part of the teen pregnancy story, as these numbers do not include cases of miscarriage or other termination. Furthermore, these statistics say nothing about the experiences and needs of teen parents. Therefore, a broader understanding of teen experiences in the Memphis community is essential. Ultimately, supporting the prevention of adolescent pregnancy and promoting effective teen parenting will have a significant positive impact on our community.
In 2011, Tennessee was one of 17 states that received funding from the US Department of Health and Human Services, Office of Adolescent Health to design, implement, and evaluate a system of care aimed at supporting pregnant teens and improving outcomes for teen parents. Tennessee is unique in that, rather than dispersing the federal funds to several counties, the State chose to concentrate all of the federal monies on streamlining the coordination of community-based pregnancy and parenting services in Shelby County, coordinated by the Shelby County Office of Early Childhood and Youth.
As part of this initiative, The University of Memphis Center for Research on Women (CROW) worked with community stakeholders to conduct a needs assessment of pregnant and parenting teens in Shelby County. An inventory of programmatic resources for pregnant and parenting teens, and a survey of condom access in select Shelby County zip codes were compiled and analyzed. In addition, the research team conducted a series of focus groups and case studies with key stakeholders, including teens, parents, program and healthcare providers, educators, and community leaders. Survey data were collected from 285 Shelby County teenagers, and epidemiologic, economic, and GIS data on teen pregnancy were examined. Detailed analyses of these data are presented in the Appendices of this report.
The report that follows briefly describes the status of teen pregnancy in Shelby County. Drawing on data from all sources, key themes are identified, as well as key program, service, and policy needs. Finally, some broad based, community-level recommendations are made. This assessment informs and facilitates the implementation of a coordinated community response targeting pregnant and parenting teens in Shelby County.