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Teen mom urges others to learn from her past

October 11, 2005|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

tiffanya@herald-mail.com

After she had her baby boy, Kimberly Ecker, 17, said she could either become a statistic or do something to keep other teenage girls from making the same mistake.

Ecker chose to help her peers.

She joined a panel of teen mothers at the Parent-Child Center, a social agency that aims to improve parenting skills through volunteer programs and public awareness campaigns.

Cathy Mentzer, education director for the Parent-Child Center and head of Ecker's panel, Teen Voices, Teen Choices, said there were two teens on the panel this year.

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The girls go to local schools and churches talking to other teens about what "it's really like" to be a teen mom, Ecker said.

"I would not recommend anyone have a baby at this age," Ecker said. "If someone would have explained the realities of parenthood (to me), it could have really made a difference."

While official numbers have not been released, Washington County Health Department officials estimated that 206 females between 15 and 19 gave birth in 2004.

That's a birth rate of 48.6 births per every 1,000 females in that age group, said health department spokesman Rod MacRae.

That projection is higher than the 2003 birth rate of 45 births per 1,000 - the fourth highest in the state that year.

While teen birth rates in Washington County are high compared with other counties' rates in Maryland, the number of teen births in Washington County has declined since 2002, according to county statistics.

Nationally, teen pregnancy has steadily declined since the 1990s, said Joyce Abma, demographer for the National Center for Health Statistics, a division of the Centers for Disease Control.

Abma said fewer teens are having sex and many teens who are having sex are using contraceptives. She credited those factors and educational campaigns such as peer-to-peer mentoring programs like Ecker's for the decline in teen births.

Statistically, teen moms face more problems and are more likely to live in poverty, Abma said.

Ecker said she dropped out of high school during her sophomore year, one month before she gave birth to her son, Alaxsander, who is now 7 months old.

Ecker, who lives with her mother in Hagerstown, said she's had problems finding a job and has pushed back plans to go to college.

"At first it felt weird (being pregnant), but then as time went on I started thinking about how I am going to take care of this baby," she said. "It was kind of hard for me."

Except for a few health classes at school, Ecker said nobody had ever talked to her about sex, abstinence or contraceptives. Without education, girls her age are bound to follow in her footsteps, she said.

For years, community leaders and youth agencies have been working together to "make a dent in what seems to be an intractable problem," MacRae said.

On Wednesday, the Washington County Community Partnership for Children & Families will release the results of a study intended to show how the county can improve its teen prevention efforts.

Melissa Nearchos, co-chair of the partnership's Interagency Committee on Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention and Parenting, said peer mentoring, such as what Ecker does, is one of the best ways to prevent teen pregnancy.

"We are very fortunate that there are teens who are willing to do that," Nearchos said. "Kids are more apt to listen to other kids."

Ecker also said peer-to-peer mentoring is the best way to reach teens. "They aren't going to listen to adults," she said.

She said she believes teens should abstain from having sex. "But if they're absolutely going to do it, they need to use contraceptives," she said.

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