Yesterday, I explained why I believe we need new approaches to preventing teen pregnancy. Following are three ideas on how to do it.
Family Prevention and Planning Through Birth Control Availability
First let me say that I do not think that children in middle school and high school should be having sex. Ever. Under any circumstances. But I also do not believe that giving access to birth control will increase sexual activity.
Having premarital sex speaks to a person’s character, not whether or not they can buy condoms or get on birth control. I think students have been taught either that having sex outside of marriage is wrong or they have been taught that having sex is no big deal.
While I would love for each and every child and teenager to agree that having sex prior to marriage is morally wrong, that is just not the case and I would be ignorant to think otherwise. With that being said, a realistic, viable solution must be developed.
So, here goes. Middle school and high school must offer a wider range of birth control options along with sex education programs. Abstinence-only programs have been shown to be ineffective. With the highly sexually-charged environment young children are growing up in, the schools must offer equally charged abstinence and teen pregnancy prevention programs.
Yes, offer free contraception in the middle schools and high schools along with sex education. Offer the day-after pill, with the understanding that teenage girls have tons of things to think about and often forget to take the pill. Offer the Depo-Provera shot that is effective for three months. This shot is approximately 97 percent effective.
If the middle school or high school female does not want the shot, provide the option of the birth control implant. The implant costs between $400-$800 up front, but is effective for up to three years. The government needs to pay that fee.
Family Planning and Prevention through Loss of Privileges
Social workers should explain to teenage females that if they get pregnant, while in middle school or high school, there is no money for prenatal care, no money for prenatal exams, no money for a birth at a hospital, no money for formula or baby food, no money for diapers.
Have the middle school and high school girls both initial and sign this document that they were informed AND understand that the government will not give them any type of assistance for prenatal or post-natal care.
Also, since they are under age and minors, social workers need to be at school orientation and have a school parent teacher meeting, where this information is discussed and parents sign that they received AND understood the information.
Until both the student and parent sign the government liability release information, curtail the students from participating in any and all type of after-school, extracurricular activities, or attending any field trips.
Social workers in the schools should also go to each class, middle and high school, and have one education session with the teenage boys. Social workers should explain that if a young boy gets a girl pregnant, then any and all bills associated with that baby will be paid by him, his family, or the girl and her family.
Impress upon the boys that they and their families will be on the hook for child support, and require that child support must be current in order to apply for a driver’s license. All child support must be paid in full before tax refunds are dispersed. Wages will be garnished until all child support is caught up. High school diploma won’t be released until all child support is caught up. If the teenage boy is unemployed or does not have a car: garnish the parents’ wages, or their income tax refund.
Family Prevention and Planning Through Educational Incentives
Another realistic approach to decreasing teen pregnancy rates is to offer free education at both the community college and university level if, upon graduation from high school, the potential student does not have any biological children. This means linking the social workers in the school system up with Department of Human Serves to be able to do a background check to determine if the potential student has filed for any type of welfare assistance.
While that is a slippery slope with HIPAA laws, ask the parents and child to sign a release of medical record to the sign this release. There will always be people who complain that this is a violation of civil rights. That is fine, and the release should be voluntary. They are not eligible to apply for the free college education program. Parents and students who have nothing to hide should be willing and able to sign the release.
For those readers who may be simply aghast as these solutions: I did not develop these solutions all by myself, alone in my office. These solutions have come from students in my classroom who have been on government assistance, who have been on welfare and told me they know exactly “how to work the system.”
These solutions are not inhumane. They are not radical. They are indeed, as I have been told, old school.
The purpose of this article is to suggest realistic, viable solutions to teenage pregnancy and high school truancy. These solutions are not perfect, but they are a simple, starting place.
Dr. Marian Swindell is a professor of social work at the Meridian campus of Mississippi State University