When it comes to preventing teen pregnancy, Nikki Payne wants to ensure that no group of young people falls through the cracks.
“It’s so important that we have a prevention program that’s focused on those older adolescents who aren’t in high school,” said Payne, a program director for the Delta Health Alliance (DHA). “This program fills that gap so we’re not leaving that age group just hanging.”
The program described by Payne is called Delta Futures II, an offshoot of the successful Delta Futures Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program that has been giving teens in 10 Delta school districts important knowledge about sex, teen pregnancy and prevention, and sexually transmitted diseases so they can make the right choices.
Delta Futures II, coordinated by DHA, targets adolescent teens who are either in college, in a workforce training program, or working toward their GED.” Unlike the original program, Delta Futures II uses “peer educators” to teach other young people about prevention.
“It’s also focused on pre-conceptional health, risk reduction, the importance of delaying pregnancies to improve infant health, and development awareness,” said Payne. “Having these messages delivered by their peers really helps drive it home.”
Eight peer educators, selected among college upperclassmen who have demonstrated leadership skills and then trained specifically for the program, conduct classes two hours a week over four sessions at four sites: Coahoma Community College, Mississippi Delta Community College, Delta State University, and Mississippi Valley State University. The pilot phase of the program saw 26 participants. A full contingent of students is expected this fall.
Bolivar County has a teen birth rate of 48 per 1,000 adolescent females aged 15-19. Coahoma County is 60 per 1,000. Humphreys is 28 per 1,000. Leflore is 58 per 1,000. Sunflower is 38 per 1,000. Washington is 40 per 1,000. All are greater than the national rate of 17 per 1,000, and all but Humphreys County are greater than Mississippi’s rate of 32 per 1,000.
In addition, for every 1,000 babies born in the service area, nearly 37 die in the first year of life. In those six counties, 15.2 percent of infants are born at low birth weights.
Teen mothers are more likely to be high school dropouts, limiting future earnings, and the financial support they can provide their child. And, they are more likely to rely on public assistance. In addition, children born to teen mothers are more likely to be born prematurely.
“This program also teaches risk avoidance skills by demonstrating to these teens the effects that their actions could have on their health and the health of their potential child,” said Payne. “It also aims to address high rates of sexually transmitted diseases by promoting abstinence.”
The original in-school Delta Futures program, begun in 2015, has helped meet the unique challenges of the region in terms of high unemployment and poverty rates and their relationship to teen pregnancy.
“These older adolescents in Delta Futures II were very excited about the program,” said Payne. “At that age, they are who they are and more willing to open up and share personal feelings. And that really helps in communicating the important facets of the program as it relates to teen pregnancy.”