May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month and a great time to reflect on the progress made in preventing too-early pregnancies. Three and a half years ago, Gaston County rallied together – with the added resources and focus of the Gaston Youth Connected (GYC) initiative – to amplify prevention efforts and to impact one of the community’s lagging health indicators. Since its inception, GYC has pulled together hundreds of adults and thousands of youth to implement effective prevention strategies. And it’s worked!
Teen pregnancy is at a historic low in Gaston County – a full 28% lower than when the project started. While there is a nationwide trend of declining teen pregnancy rates, Gaston County’s progress stands out. Notably, the historical gap that has existed in pregnancy rates between African American and White teens was eliminated in the 2012 rates. This progress reflects hard, thoughtful work of many partners across the county.
Gaston Youth Connected does a lot of counting. Over 140 community partners have engaged with the project, either to host awareness activities or directly serve youth and families. GYC-funded education programs have reached over 2,000 young people. These programs are effective at helping young people understand healthy relationships, the benefits and skills to delay sexual activity, and how to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unintended pregnancies. Program participants significantly increase their knowledge about abstinence, birth control and where to get prevention services when needed. 1 in 5 sexually active teens who seek contraception receive one of the most effective methods – a much higher percentage than the statewide average. 45 youth leaders have been trained as advocates and peer educators and have reached more than 600 additional young people with accurate information. What’s more, 9 in 10 parents support the prevention strategies of GYC.
Failing to prevent too early pregnancies can result in tough consequences for families and young people and also generate public costs. The GYC investment in prevention is already paying off – for families and at savings of $4 for every $1 invested. So, it is worth caring about and taking a stand to make a difference.
This May, let’s take a moment to recognize the progress and serve up credit across the county – to parents who have on-going important conversations with their adolescents, to the amazing people who work directly with youth, to civic-minded individuals and groups who find a way to raise awareness and share prevention efforts, and, most importantly, to young people themselves who are quite simply making better and better choices about relationships, health, and prevention.
Sally Swanson, Executive Director
Gaston Youth Connected