LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- THV 11 first told you in March that Arkansas leads the nation in teen pregnancies. It's a problem the Arkansas Department of Health says needs more attention. So THV wants to know looked into the issue to see what, if anything, is being done
Teen pregnancy is a topic many people don't like to talk about. We hear things like "It won't happen to my kid." But it's a discussion we must have. In 2008, 8,190 Arkansas teen girls got pregnant. That number, recently released, is the most current data and it has our state leading the country.
"16 and Pregnant" and the "Teem Mom" series are reality TV shows watched by millions across the country. They highlight the struggles of teen girls raising their children, but three Arkansas teen moms say while the shows portray the burdens it glamorizes teen pregnancy. The girls get paid by MTV and many have been on tabloid covers.
Teen mom, Ashlee Johnson says, "Basically it is giving them an, OK, go get pregnant. Be on TV like these girls."
Arkansas ranks number one in the nation in teens giving birth. And when it comes to teens that get pregnant, we're fourth.
Johnson, now 19, was 17 when she learned the news. The senior in high school was not on birth control. "I knew it was going to happen, so I set myself up," she explains.
Jessika Garcia was 13 when she started having sex. She says, "I just couldn't believe it. I was just 15-years-old. I was crying like crazy."
Corbin Thompson, 19, is the only one in the group on birth control. "I thought the Depo shot was 100 percent. I had been on it since I was 16 and I just knew that 'Corbin' could not get pregnant."
THV 11 got the most recent break-down of teen births in Arkansas from the Department of Health. They show nearly 5,200 babies were born to girls ages 15 to 19 in 2010. The top county, Monroe, shows 31 of the 268 teen girls there had babies.
"Obviously we need to do better," adds Brad Planey with the Department of Health. He says the good news is Arkansas' teen birth rate has dropped 16 percent since 2007. However, the rest of the country is doing better.
"It's an issue where the gap between us and the other states is widening. Where it used to be where we were 50 percent higher than the national average, now we are 65 percent higher."
Planey credits the high numbers to poverty, culture, lack of parental involvement, and education.
"I think a lot of parents are surprised by how little information is provided by their schools," says Planey.
We took that concern to the Arkansas Department of Education. Health and Physical Education Specialist Don Kaminar says "Arkansas is in no way behind other states in the quality of education we are providing."
Kaminar adds that Arkansas' courses on sexual health are consistent with other states that are excelling. "The state is doing a good job at implementing and pushing resources to the teachers to help them implement this," explains Kaminar.
The course content though is left to the discretion of the local school districts and varies widely from school to school.
Former teen mom Tricia Goyer runs the Arkansas teen mom support group MOPS and believes the solution is abstinence and parents being more involved. She says, "I think the state can throw money at a lot of issues and do a lot of training, but if you don't have a personal connection with these teenagers it is not going to make a big difference."
Johnson, Garcia, and Thompson are her students. "The responsibility that I have to take on. I never pictured myself buying pampers in Wal-Mart, got to get up late at night to go get medicine, gotta buy this. I wouldn't have imagined it. Not me. Not Ashlee, I wouldn't imagine myself," says Johnson.
While all three can't imagine life without their babies, the teens do wish they would have waited to have sex.
Garcia says, "Things would have gone a little bit differently, maybe getting into college and all of that stuff."
"I am a living witness; it's not easy," says Johnson.
THV11's Ashley Blackstone asks, "What is your advice to other teen girls who are in high school who are making the choice to have sex?"
Thompson says, "Finish school first. Try and wait. Well, I was going to say wait to have sex, but most people won't listen. But use protection, because when you are still in high school it is very difficult to be in high school and have a new born child."
The Arkansas Department of Health and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy has resources that can help parents talk with their kids about their sexual health.
Statement from Gov. Mike Beebe
"In the last decade, significant progress has been made in decreasing teen pregnancy rates nationally and in the state. Still, Arkansas has a teen-birth rate higher than the national rate. We must break the cycle by focusing our efforts on prevention. The Arkansas Department of Health is working to provide education and resources to local communities and health care providers through multiple statewide efforts. By providing quality education to school nurses and communication about reproductive-health issues, we can help our young people to recognize the consequences of their decisions. "
Top 10 Arkansas Counties with Most Teen Births
(2010 Data From AR Dept. of Health)
1. Monroe Co. (Female population 15 -19 Years: 268, Births: 31)
2. Green Co. (Female population 15 -19 Years: 1,285, Births: 92)
3. Nevada Co. (Female population 15 -19 Years: 265, Births: 25)
4. Sevier Co. (Female population 15 -19 Years: 628, Births: 57)
5. Phillips Co. (Female population 15 -19 Years: 821, Births: 73)
6. St. Francis Co. (Female population 15 -19 Years: 888, Births: 73)
7. Jackson Co. (Female population 15 -19 Years: 478, Births: 39)
8. Yell Co. (Female population 15 -19 Years: 725, Births: 57)
9. Miller Co. (Female population 15 -19 Years: 99, Births: 1,270)
10. Arkansas Co. (Female population 15 -19 Years: 571, Births: 44)