Beth DeSantis: Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

June 20, 2017:  The really good news for South Carolina is that the teenage  birthrate has decreased 64% since 1991, when it was at its highest point ever. The better news for Charleston County is that the teen birth rate has decreased 78% in that same period.  The bad news, however, is that South Carolina has the 16th highest teenage birthrate in the US and that Charleston County is only 45th of the state’s county rankings. 

Those numbers, while noteworthy and very important, aren’t good enough for Beth DeSantis, the Executive Director of the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, our speaker for the June 20th meeting of the Downtown Charleston Rotary Club.  As the non-profit’s Chief Executive Officer, Beth brings a lifetime of wisdom and experience to a topic she freely admits can be “uncomfortable to talk about.”  But as a clinical reproduction nurse whose entire career has been about family planning and its effects on individuals, families and communities, Beth believes that until we virtually eliminate teen pregnancy and births, we cannot effectively break the cycle that traps too many young women into a lifetime of poverty.  In fact, a teenage pregnancy reduces the odds for that young mother going to college to 2-3%.  Without sufficient income to take care of herself and her children, the young woman is overwhelmingly challenged to empower herself and her family for economic success.  It is prevention that is the key to breaking this cycle and that is the objective of the Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. 

The Campaign implements its objective to prevent teen pregnancies in five ways: 

1. Building Capacity.  To do this, Campaign employees train volunteers across the state to directly address the teen pregnancy prevention needs of the youth they serve. These professionals educate teens on how to make better choices, delay sexual activity, use contraception, and prevent repeat births;

2. Raising Awareness through media engagement, youth-serving professionals and community members with innovative, up-to-date information about teen pregnancy prevention;

3. Focusing on Research and Evidence by promoting evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention strategies;

4. Investing in Communities by providing more than $1 million in funding to organizations around the state to support the implementation of evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention in a variety of settings;

5. Educating Parents and Teens by producing straight-forward sources of information for teens, parents and teen parents. 

The Campaign is funded by many contributors ranging from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention and multiple federal and state grants to the Duke Endowment, the Blue Cross Blue Shield South Carolina Foundation and Palmetto Health.  According to their website, the Campaign received around $12m in funding in 2016 and employs a full and part time staff of approximately 25. 

Beth pointed out that while abstinence is always the first recommendation to teens to avoid pregnancy, the facts are that 40% of high school students have had sex and that abstinence alone will not be enough to bring down teenage pregnancy rates further.  The key is contraception and Beth urged that any parent or adult responsible for a teen to talk about avoiding teen pregnancy early and often.  Because conversations about sex can be difficult and awkward, the Campaign provides ideas to initiate and conduct these discussions and works with local youth focused organizations to provide abstinence and contraception information. 

Having current, accurate and understandable knowledge about sex and the risks and consequences of teen pregnancies helps empower teens to make smart, informed decisions about sex that will impact individual lives and the health of our communities.  This is the role of the SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy and Beth DeSantis is determined to see our teen birth rates continue to go down while our success rates for SC teens go up.

Cheryl Kaynard, Keyway Committee