January 9, 2012

MAINE COMPASS: Article about area's first baby of '12 spurred debate about teen pregnancy

Sharon Abrams and Martha Kempe

The time-honored recognition of first baby born in central Maine in the New Year created quite a reaction in the Jan. 2 edition of the newspaper because the mother and father are a Waterville couple who happen to be teen parents.

Since the subject of teen parenting has generated so much interest and attention as a result of the New Year's birth, we want to share some background about teenage pregnancy and success stories and talk about two valuable teen parent programs that are available in Maine.

Teen pregnancy exists. The most recent data from the National Kids Count Program (2008), however, shows that of the 50 states, Maine has the seventh-lowest teen birth rate in the nation, with 26 teen births per 1,000 teens.

In comparison to other states, Maine has a rate similar to Vermont's (21), while neighboring New England states, New Hampshire and Massachusetts have the lowest rate, with 20 teen births. Maine is well below the United States average of 41 teen births per 1,000 teens. The state with the highest teen birth rate is Mississippi, with 66.

Maine supports improving the lives of all our children through its early childhood programs such as Maine Families, a home-based parent education program.

Our experience indicates Maine teen parents are more likely to complete high school because of high school programs in Maine that include Passages at the Community Schools serving seven counties, and the Teen Parent Program at the Maine Children's Home for Little Wanderers in Waterville. Both programs are designed specifically to keep teen parents engaged in school while learning about positive parenting.

Passages, a program of The Community Schools at Opportunity Farm and Camden, is a home-based high school degree program for teen parents living in Knox, Waldo, Lincoln, Cumberland, Androscoggin, Sagadahoc and Washington counties. Founded in 1994, Passages has graduated more than 150 students with a state-approved private high school diploma. Staff members are proud to work with students as they grow into their roles as parents and life-long learners.

Having a child at any age can be a challenge. Teen parents readily admit it is not easy, but for many it is a turning point for good in their lives.

Graduates of Passages do amazing things in Maine. One is a Maine National Guard member who served in Iraq and works as a Red Cross first aid instructor. Another owns a children's clothing store in Waldoboro. Another owns a popular Portland coffee shop.

Many work in health care. A recent graduate works with Alzheimer's patients in an assisted living facility. One student's U.S. citizenship class project resulted in Rockland building a much-needed sidewalk on a busy road.

More go on to college to better support themselves and their children. Our students volunteer at local animal shelters, soup kitchens and food pantries.

Many are the first in their family to earn a high school diploma.

These are just a few of the stories behind teen pregnancy in Maine. Contrary to popular belief, teen parents can be and are active contributing members to their communities.

The Teen Parent School Program at the Maine Children's Home for Little Wanderers has offered an alternative high school program for pregnant and parenting teens since 1974.

The program includes courses for high school completion, as well as prenatal, parenting and early care/education for their babies, in addition to counseling services for the parents themselves.

The intent of this program is to help the teens learn about the responsibilities of being a good parents while offering opportunities to develop into responsible adults.

In five years, their babies will enter our school systems, and we want to ensure that they are prepared and ready to learn.

The Teen Parent School Program has been critical in giving direction and support in their lives.

Our staff in Waterville is proud to see our graduates not only be wonderful parents but successful adults who own businesses, are vice presidents of banks, nurses, teachers and social workers, as well as working in other fields.

Five students recent high school graduates went on to college in the fall.

All new parents need support, but most particularly teens. We recognize that need for both the teens and their children, and we are here to make a difference for the rest of their lives.

Sharon Abrams is the executive director at the Maine Children's Home for Little Wanderers (www.mainechildrenshome.org). Email at sabrams@mainechildrenshome.org. Martha Kempe is the director of the Passages Program at The Community Schools at Opportunity Farm and Camden (www.thecommunityschool.org). Email at martha.thecommunityschool@gmail.com.

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