Network addresses teen pregnancy issues

Babies having babies. It's an old story that just keeps getting worse, but in Crook County we are lucky enough to have a team of concerned individuals implementing ideas and programs aimed at reducing teen pregnancy.
   The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Network of Crook County (TPPN) is made up of youth pastors, teachers, health department staff and members of the local Pregnancy Crisis Center.
   Their collective goal is to educate the community about the importance of teen pregnancy prevention, to reduce the number of teen parents in the community and to keep teen parents enrolled in school.
   This year, their ability to have an impact on the community met with a boon when they recently received a grant for $20,000. Although these funds probably won't be available after this year, the group is committed to using the grant to make all the difference possible over the next several months.
   "One of the big things we're planning is a teen health fair in April," Crook County Health Dept. Debbie George, said. In addition to an old fashioned health fair featuring booths from various agencies including drug and alcohol, the police department and the health department, a special speaker has been scheduled to make presentations to the high school students and the middle school sixth and seventh graders.
   "Brad Henning talks a lot about adolescent relationships, not specifically teen pregnancy, but a lot about choices. He really gets down to the level of the kids," she explained. "We've heard a lot of good things about him so we are glad to be able to bring him here with part of the grant money."
   Henning's April 13 presentation on "Relationships in a Sexual Culture" is designed to teach kids what healthy relationships can be, and how to prepare themselves for future relationships. Henning describes the differences between the needs and desires of men and women, and how they feel and communicate in different ways. This talk is designed to help kids better understand themselves by showing what real love is and is not. It also gives kids insights into why they feel so hurt, disappointed, and betrayed by what they might currently be experiencing, and what can be done to change that. George said the group is also looking at offering a parent's night featuring Henning the evening prior to his presentation to students.
   Grant funds are also making it possible for George to venture away from the Health Department, giving teens a chance to seek services in a more confidential and comfortable way. "I think a lot of our teens don't seek services because they are afraid to come to the health department for fear they might be seen by someone they know," George said.
   The mobile health unit goes out the first Wednesday of each month to Adult and Family Services where the doors are opened for business.
   "We serve whoever wants to come," she said. "It's a little slow getting off the ground because people don't know we're there yet. The more we're there and doing it consistently I think we'll start seeing more people."
   Predominantly it's kids from the high school who are using this particular service who don't want to go elsewhere to seek services.
   "When I talk with teens I really try to get them to talk to their parents about what's going on," she said. "The majority of the girls that I see have already been sexually active for six months, so it's just a matter of time. Luckily they are coming in for services, but I think they need some education before they get to that point."
   Although teen pregnancy rates in Crook County have fallen since 1990's all time high of 28 to 11 in 1999 the rates went up last year to 13 and there is some concern that it may be even higher this year. One trend which is particularly disturbing is the decreasing age of teens becoming sexually active. "They seem to be getting younger and younger," George said as she looked over the statistics of women seeking health services. "The girls that are under 15 has really increased, and I don't know why that is."
   The group is looking at the school curriculum in an attempt to get more health education into place so that teens can be made aware of the potential difficulties they face. Plans are in place to purchase Baby Think It Over Dolls which would be used by the health nurse at the middle school as a way to educate young men and women on the difficulties of taking care of an infant in real life.
   Other tools going into effect are awareness posters which the high school's Positive Teen Action club have hung up in the halls as well as bumper stickers that say "Silence Breeds Babies, talk to your kids about sex" and pamphlets for parents. "We're really trying to get the word out to parents that they need to take an active role in this issue," she said. "Parents need to be talking to their kids and it's got to be progressive from when the are little to the time when they are teenagers."
   The next TPPN meeting is scheduled for March 14 at noon. These meetings are open to all interested individuals and organizations who would like to contribute to the efforts of the Network. It will be held at the high school, room 131. For more information call 447-5165.