The Interagency Council of Carbon County and Lehigh Carbon Community College (LCCC) hosted Lisa Covitch, author of "The Epidemic of Teen Pregnancy: The American Tragedy" at the Nesquehoning LCCC campus on July 19 to foster discussion and provide educational material to teen mothers and their communities.

Covitch worked as a social worker for over 25 years, part of which she spent at the Altoona Regional Hospital in the maternity and the behavioral health wards. Covitch has worked extensively with pregnant teenagers and is currently a part-time instructor in human development at Penn State Altoona.

Covitch reached out to Larissa Kimmel, Child and Adolescent Service System Program coordinator of Carbon-Monroe-Pike Mental Health and Developmental Services, when she was looking for places to speak about her book and teen pregnancy around the same time the organizations decided to put together a program on the subject.

"We have had a lot of people request training and information on teen pregnancy: how it affects teens and communities," said Jeanne Miller, director of LCCC Carbon and Schuylkill educational services.

"Teen pregnancy came up as a growing need for education," agreed Kimmel. "I think our teens as well as the parents need a lot of support and education."

Carbon County is ranked 28 out of 67 counties for its percentage of teen pregnancies and Schuylkill County comes in slightly higher at 26.

According to Covitch, 34 percent of American young women are having children before the age of 20. Since teen mothers are less likely to finish high school and only 1.5 percent of teen mothers continue on to attend college, it creates a vicious socioeconomic cycle.

"Teen moms are more likely to end up on welfare because if they are not completing high school, it is harder to get a job," she said adding that one-half of all welfare payments go to families with teen mothers.

Covitch and audience members discussed why teen pregnancy is so prevalent and agreed it was caused by lack of sexual education and social pressure from their peers.

"Girls feel pressured to have sex at a young age. A lot of times it's been girls in a clique and their friends pressuring them," said audience member and director of Care Net of Carbon County, Susan DeMara.

Covitch noted that teenagers receive information on sex from his or her friends, instead of from teachers or family members.

"We want them to go to a trusted adult but that doesn't always happen," she said. Asking, "Is this a topic that parents want to talk about with their teenagers?" The audience answered, "No," and identified this lack of communication between young people and adults as a major cause for high percentages of teen pregnancies.

Covitch and the audience, which was composed of representatives from various, local social work groups, discussed how their organizations need more access to schools to provide better education on how to prevent and handle teen pregnancies and the importance of safe sex.

"The problem with a lot of school districts is that they have to be careful with the topic. (The schools) are afraid that parents might be up in arms and upset," said Covitch. For a lot of teens, "Nobody's really talked to them about it."

It was also noted at the program that all of the obstetrics units in Carbon County have closed. This creates a challenge for teen mothers since many young adults do not have stable transportation and they now have to travel to Hazleton or Allentown to deliver their babies.

Some organizations and resources available to help young mothers mentioned at the program were Precious Life Inc. and federal programs, "Women, Infants, and Children" (WIC) and Healthy Beginnings Plus.

Precious Life Inc. is a pregnancy service ministry with locations in Altoona, Bedford and Johnstown that provides counseling, material needs, temporary residence in a maternity home in Hollidaysburg and a 24-hour help hot line.

Healthy Beginnings Plus assists low-income pregnant women by providing them prenatal care. WIC provides supplemental foods, health care referrals and nutrition education for low-income women and their children up to age 5.

One local organization that provides free, confidential help to teen mothers and fathers that was represented at the program by director DeMara and administrative assistant Debbie Balch, is Care Net of Carbon County.

DeMara said that Care Net is a faith-based program and two of the services the group provides are a post-abortion recovery Bible study and an "Earn While You Learn" parental education program.

This is a program where teen mothers can come to center and earn $20 in credit for attending an appointment or completing homework related to parenting. Forty dollars is awarded if the father joins the mother for the appointment. The money can then be used in a shop inside the center which sells diapers, baby clothes, etc.

DeMara said she attended the program at LCCC to further her education regarding teen pregnancy.

"This is a subject that I am passionate about: helping the next generation. I wanted to see if there was anything I could learn," said DeMara.

For anyone seeking more information on teen pregnancy and related matters, Covitch's book, "The Epidemic of Teen Pregnancy: The American Tragedy" is available at www.rosedogbookstore.com.