Local nonprofit acquires funding to improve state's teen birth rate

Educator Kim Hutton teaching at Barboursville Middle School. West Virginia recorded the eighth highest teen birth rate in the nation in 2017, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (Submitted Photo.)

Teen pregnancies in the United States are at an all-time low, according to recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and yet West Virginia has one of the highest teen birth rates in the country.

The number of teen pregnancies for U.S. girls ages 15 to 19 is down 58 percent since 2007 and 72 percent since 1991, according to the CDC.

In its preliminary findings for 2018, the CDC says the national birth rate for this same age group is down 7 percent – to a record low. The provisional data indicates that 17 out of every 1,000 girls had a baby last year.

At the same time, West Virginia recorded the eighth highest teen birth rate in the nation in 2017, according to the CDC.

The nonprofit organization Mission West Virginia says it is leading a statewide effort to reduce the state’s teen birth rate.

The organization’s THINK Program (Teaching Health Instead of Nagging Teens) was recently awarded a two-year $984,000 Teen Pregnancy Prevention grant from the Department of Health and Human Services. The grant will run through June 2021.

“Teen pregnancy is connected to multiple social issues, including education, child well-being, and poverty,” said Becky White, communications specialist for Mission West Virginia.

Every day in 2017, four teen girls in West Virginia had a baby, she said.

“Our mission is to provide students with information and motivate them with positive guidance so that they realize their true potential and reach their greatest capacity as responsible young adults,” White added. “This program is vital.”

Mission West Virginia says the THINK Program utilizes “evidence-based curriculum” to educate youth on teen pregnancy prevention, sexually transmitted diseases, mental and physical abuse and the importance of healthy relationships.

THINK Director Jill Gwilt says her educators receive many letters from participants who say they've changed their mindset or removed themselves from abusive relationships after participating in the program.

Gwilt recalled one of the program's educators receiving a letter from a teen explaining how it "changed her view on relationships and her own self-worth."

“This child had been part of the foster care system in her childhood, and had a parent that struggled with addiction,” Gwilt said.

She said the teen’s view on relationships was skewed due to her childhood experiences.

“Our educator has stayed in touch with this child and became a mentor to her. She still speaks about the impact our program and our educator had on her life,” Gwilt said.

The THINK program currently serves 24 West Virginia counties including Raleigh, Fayette, Nicholas, Greenbrier, Mercer, Monroe and McDowell. Mission West Virginia officials say the grant gives them hope of expanding into Wood and Jackson counties.

For more information on the THINK Program or Mission West Virginia call 866-CALL-MWV or visit missionwv.org.

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