Teen Pregnancy. Something we all should be "familiar" with, yet an issue that often goes overlooked and/or neglected. In 2017 alone, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a total of 194,377 babies born to women aged 15–19 years, for a birth rate of 18.8 per 1,000 women. While this is "technically" a record low for the U.S., rates are substantially higher than in other industrialized nations, and racial/ethnic and geographic disparities in teen birth rates continue to persist. Despite high rates, the United States has funded abstinence-only education in efforts to reduce high numbers for over a decade. Research shows that increasing emphasis on abstinence-only education is positively correlated with teenage pregnancy and birth rates (Stanger-Hall and Hall 2011), thus proving such method ineffective and a need for comprehensive sex education.
In the State of South Carolina, teen birth rates have decreased by 70% (between 1991 and 2016), due to better education and access to contraceptives. According to South Carolina's Code of Laws (Title 59-Education), each local school board in South Carolina is at discretion to implement the following:
(1) In grades K-5: instruction in comprehensive health education must include- community health, consumer health, environmental health, growth and development, nutritional health, personal health, prevention and control of diseases and disorders, safety and accident prevention, substance use and abuse, dental health, and mental and emotional health. Sexually transmitted diseases at this grade level is excluded from instruction. Age-appropriate instruction in reproductive health may be included at this level.
(2) For grades 6-8: instruction in comprehensive health must include- all of the aforementioned PLUS reproductive health education. Sexually transmitted diseases at this point are included as a part of instruction. At the discretion of each local school board, instruction in family life education or pregnancy prevention education or both may be included, but instruction in these area may NOT include an explanation of the methods of contraception before sixth grade. In 2016, domestic violence was officially incorporated as a part of instruction.
(3) For grades 9-12: Students must take AT LEAST ONE comprehensive health education class, that includes at least 750 minutes of reproductive health education and pregnancy prevention education. Students at this level are also educated about adoption as a positive alternative to pregnancy. Furthermore, at this level, students are also instructed in cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and awareness of the use of an automated external defibrillator (AED).
(4) The South Carolina Educational Television Commission develops instructional programs and materials to be available to school districts. These materials are designed for the purpose of explaining bodily functions or the human reproductive process. These materials DO NOT contain actual or simulated portrayals of sexual activities or sexual intercourse.
(5) Instruction DOES NOT include a discussion of alternate sexual lifestyles from heterosexual relationships.
(6) Each local school board appoints a thirteen-member local advisory committee consisting of two parents, three clergy, two health professionals, two teachers, two students, one being the president of the student body of a high school, and two other persons not employed by the local school district. The purpose of this committee is to assist in the selection of components and curriculum materials.
(7) NO contraceptive device or contraceptive medication can be distributed in or on the school grounds of any public elementary or secondary school. Schools may NOT offer programs, instruction, or activities regarding abortion counseling, information about abortion services, or assist in obtaining abortion, and materials containing this information must not be distributed in schools.
(8) Instruction in pregnancy prevention education must be presented separately to male and female students.
In this post, we sit with Fact Forward, formerly the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, to discuss teen pregnancy in SC, what is working, and how you can get involved in the teen pregnancy conversation. Fact Forward has led a statewide effort to advocate for teen reproductive health since 1994 and has contributed significantly to the teen birth rate decline.
Q: For the sake of any adolescents or teens who may come across this post, I think before we get started on what you guys do...we should clarify the basics. What is sex, and do you define “teen pregnancy”?
A: Adolescents, please use this page as a resource- https://www.factforward.org/resources/teens.
I should also clarify that we train youth-serving professionals, advocate for evidence-based approaches to adolescent reproductive health education, analyze related data, fundraise, and provide resources for parents and adolescents.
Q: What necessary steps should a young person take if they start having sex?
A: We emphasize the importance of communication with partners and trusted adults, including parents, guardians, mentors and health care providers. As you will see at the link above, we encourage adolescents to think about it, talk about it and make plan. We remind the adults in their lives to be proactive, have age-appropriate conversations, use teachable moments and ask for help, if necessary, to ensure young people get medically accurate information and easy access to reproductive health care services.
Q: What contraceptives are available for sexually actively teens? Where are these contraceptives provided?
A: We have information here from our national partners at Power to Decide where adolescents can access a health center locator and birth control options.
Q: Is there a “right age” to really have “the talk”? How can parents be more open with discussing sex with their children?
A: Parents, please see here- https://www.factforward.org/resources/parents
We recommend all trusted adults prepare young people with age-appropriate conversations that range from guidance on proper body terms, boundaries and respect at early ages to providing information about abstinence, birth control and proper condom use for older adolescents. Parents and professionals know their young people best, so it’s important to build relationships that allow for ongoing conversations, not just a one-time “talk.” National campaigns like “Let’s Talk Month” remind parents and trusted adults to not wait until the teenage years to have one uncomfortable talk, but instead discuss relationships, current events, popular music, movies, etc. along the way to increase the chance that a teen in your life comes to you before they are sexually active for support.
Q: If adolescents do not feel comfortable talking to their parents or do not have a trusted adult present in their lives, what other resources are available to learn about sex and their body?
A: We understand that adolescents have unique family experiences that do not always make discussing these issues with biological parents possible. Whatever the reason, we encourage professionals to be ready to mentor young people, refer them for services and/or direct them to online resources like Fact Forward’s Not Right Now initiative. When we are able to address young people, we remind them about resources in their communities and online as well.
Q: Okay! Now that we’ve cleared all that up. Time for the good stuff. Let’s get started! Can you first introduce yourself, and just tell us what you do at Fact forward?
Kimberley Wicker, LMSW
Partner Engagement Coordinator
I joined Fact Forward in February 2010 after serving as program director for Newberry County Teen Pregnancy Prevention (a program of the Family Service Center of South Carolina) for six years. I received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Columbia College (2002) and a Master of Social Work (MSW) from the University of South Carolina (2008). I have remarkable experience in youth outreach programs and advocacy activities for young people. In addition to my educational background, I have been able to gain professional training in service learning, parenting education, outreach and strategic communications. In my current role, I am responsible for the development and implementation of a variety of educational strategies that meet the needs of the agency's target markets, with an emphasis on social worker outreach.
Q: Great! Tell us...Is teen pregnancy REALLY a problem in South Carolina?
A: Please refer to our most recent teen birth data release - https://www.factforward.org/news/decades-progress-include-some-points-concern-scs-teen-birth-rate
Q: Very broadly...can you tell us how Fact Forward is addressing teen pregnancy in S.C.?
Again, we train youth-serving professionals, advocate for evidence-based approaches to adolescent reproductive health education, analyze related data, fundraise, and provide resources for parents and adolescents.
Q: In what ways does Fact Forward use community engagement as a platform to educate young men and women about preventing teen pregnancy?
A: Please refer to this page.
Q: What is the “sexual education” policy in South Carolina?
A: Please refer to this page -
Q: Do you feel that S.C. would benefit from having more OPEN sex discussions in schools?
Of course, we believe that more open conversations are important in all settings but we are very intentional about training educators about SC’s laws and local guidelines as outlined here - https://www.factforward.org/resources/parents/sex-ed-sc.
This is also why we encourage community-based support, parent involvement and healthcare provider training so that we can address adolescent reproductive health in a broad manner – it's not just one sector’s job to help teens make healthy decisions.
Q: I noticed that Fact Forward has a number of programs on their site open to the public for people who may lead groups or teach about sexual/reproductive health. Can you give us details about these programs and where readers can find them?
All events and trainings listed here - https://www.factforward.org/events.
I think you are also referring to Let’s Talk Month Parties and other general awareness and outreach activities – here is more information about sponsorships during May and October that help communities host awareness events.
Q: Lastly....and I thank you for answer all of these. But, if anyone in the Columbia area or S.C. wants to get involved with Fact Forward or addressing teen pregnancy, what would you recommend?
About Fact Forward
Fact Forward, formerly the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, has led a statewide effort to advocate for teen reproductive health since 1994. Due in part to their work over the past 25 years, the teen birth rate in South Carolina has declined 70%...but there’s still more work to do. STIs are on the rise, and unintended pregnancies among young adults are up. Fact Forward changed their name in 2019 to reflect their broader commitment to reproductive health because, increasingly, their work has expanded beyond the single issue of teen pregnancy and beyond the borders of the State of South Carolina.
More Resources about Teen Pregnancy