Illinois Gov. George Ryan announced today that Illinois has the lowest level of teen births since those statistics were first gathered in 1959.
In Winnebago County, those numbers have dropped as well. One local organization has been working for years to bring these numbers down.
Rockford Meld hosts a Christmas party for all the teen mothers who have been successful in their program. But after Gov. Ryan's announcement, they have even more to celebrate.
Heather and Denelle, both teen moms, felt alone from the start. "When I found out I was pregnant everybody was gonna be there. When I had him all those friends who said they'd be there left," says Heather Whitehead. Denelle Horton agrees, "there was always talk about being god parents and babysitters, but where are the babysitters when you need them."
A program like Rockford Meld is the light at the end of the tunnel for these girls.
Annette McLean, executive director of Rockford Meld says, "Our focus is to help them in any way. If they need to finish school, employment training, parenting."
And many times that's the key to preventing repeat pregnancies. "A lot of time when girls have a baby, they have another baby so our focus is to help teens, moms and dads, come up with new goals so that their directed and focused," McLean adds.
Denelle and Heather are both enrolled at Rock Valley College. Denelle wants to be a nurse and heather a criminologist. But not only have these girls found direction; they've also found lasting friendships.
"It makes you feel better to know that there are people going through the same things," says Denelle.
wifr.com Extended Web Coverage
- The United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births in the western industrialized world. Teen pregnancy costs the U.S. at least $7 billion annually.
- Nearly four in 10 young women become pregnant at least once before they reach the age of 20—nearly one million a year. Eight in ten of these pregnancies are unintended and 79 percent are to unmarried teens.
- The teen birth rate has declined slowly but steadily from 1991 to 2000 with an overall decline of 22 percent for those aged 15 to 19.
- These recent declines reverse the 24-percent rise in the teenage birth rate from 1986 to 1991. The largest decline since 1991 by race was for black women.
- The birth rate for black teens aged 15 to 19 fell 31 percent between 1991 to 2000. Hispanic teen birth rates declined 12 percent between 1994 and 2000.
- Teen mothers are less likely to complete high school, (only one-third receive a high school diploma) and more likely to end up on welfare (nearly 80 percent of unmarried teen mothers end up on welfare).
- The children of teenage mothers have lower birth weights, are more likely to perform poorly in school, and are at greater risk of abuse and neglect.
- The sons of teen mothers are 13 percent more likely to end up in prison while teen daughters are 22 percent more likely to become teen mothers themselves.
Source: www.teenpregnancy.org (National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy Web site) contributed to this report.