Teen pregnancy is a common problem across the United States, and Troup County is no different.
But one local group is making it its mission to help those teens learn to care for their babies, and achieve future goals.
“Circle of Care is here because we want to see young mothers succeed,” said Program Coordinator, Dedtria Jackson. “Our ultimate goal is to see them walk across the stage and graduate. We tell them it’s going to be a little bit harder, but it can be done.”
“We try to help them not become a mom for a second, third, or fourth time,” she added. “Research indicates if they [young women] get pregnant at an early age, they’ll have another baby by the age of 20.”
Circle of Care has helped more than 1,000 girls since 1997. Since it’s inception, the organization has expanded their coverage area to Meriwether and Heard counties, plus added more age groups. They now target first time moms ages 10 to 23.
One of the first things Circle of Care does is create a unique family plan for each client. That includes teaching parenting skills, preventing more pregnancies, figuring out how to stay in school or get a job, and making sure their home is a safe environment for their newborn. Jackson said all these goals are in line with the State of Georgia’s Department of Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention standards.
The organization wants the teens to succeed and set goals, but they also dispel any unrealistic expectations.
“Everyone wants to be out on their own at age 17,” said Jackson. “But they don’t have life experience. We ask them, ‘What is your income? What are you going to eat? How are you going to cook it?’”
So in addition to planning for the future, Circle of Care also holds special sessions like cooking and sewing classes. They teach the soon-to-be parents how to bond with their babies, make the right nutritional choices, potty train, have empathy for their baby, and much more.
“It’s rewarding because of the stories and the end result,” said Parent Educator, NaToya Alford. “Some of them [clients] graduate, or get a job, or get primary custody of the child. Those stories are gratifying.”
One of Alford’s main jobs is to make home visits and incorporate child/parent activities, helping them learn how to bond. She also assesses what the teens needs are in the home and in school or the community. In June 2013, Alford and three other Parent Educators made 853 home visits within the three county area.
“We’re not there to judge them. We’re just there to be that extra support system in the home,” explained Alford.
Like how to be role models for their children.
“We teach them, ‘Children do what they see, not what you say,’” explained Jackson. “We need to model the behaviors we want our children to model. If mom and dad cuss and scream at each other, guess how little Johnny is going to solve his problems?”
But more importantly, Circle of Care is a support system for first time parents and their babies. They provide transportation to and from doctors appointments, set them up with clothing and supplies they’ll need for their child, plus connect them with any other community resources they may need like the local food bank. And it’s at no cost to the client.
“This program is free and people aren’t knocking down our doors,” said Jackson.
Jackson hopes to double the number of teens participating in the program, in addition to adding volunteers, securing more funding, and finding a van to help transport their clients. But ultimately, she wants to see all her teen parents and their children succeed in life.
For more information on Circle of Care, contact Dedtria Jackson at 706-298-2148 Ext. 1225 or through email at firstname.lastname@example.org.