By Katie Demeria
In 2010, teen childbearing in Virginia cost the commonwealth's residents $183 million, according to a recent analysis by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
Those costs come largely from what a National Campaign news release calls the "negative consequences often experienced by the children of teen mothers, during both their childhood and adolescent years."
Largely, though, Virginia has been making strides in reducing its teen pregnancy rates. In the Northern Shenandoah Valley, 317 teens became pregnant in 2009, according to the Lord Fairfax Health District.
In 2010, the number decreased to 295, then 277 in 2011. The most recently available number was 234 in 2012.
Dr. Charles Devine, director of the health district, said hard work conducted by various agencies throughout the state has contributed to that decrease.
The National Campaign's numbers point out, though, that even a lowered rate is costing taxpayers a great deal.
"We need to avoid complacency," Devine said. "Things are headed in a favorable direction, and in the absence of continued vigilance and effort, we run the risk that the trend will cease."
The real cost, according to the National Campaign, are incurred when the children grow older. Children of teen mothers cost the commonwealth due to increased rates of incarceration and decreased earnings and spending.
Sara Schoonover-Martin, executive director of Healthy Families of the Northern Shenandoah Valley, said providing resources and helping young, inexperienced families helps keep children on the right track.
Twenty-five percent of the families that Healthy Families serves are teen moms, Schoonover-Martin said.
"By providing support to young parents, it's empowering, and building stronger families," she said. "We're laying the foundation for a better, stronger community by making sure they have the resources they need."
Helping build those strong foundations, Schoonover-Martin said, will help prevent the costs that the National Campaign's released outlined.
Yvonne Frazier, program manager for Healthy Families of Shenandoah County, said the agency not only encourages teen mothers to continue their education, they also guide them in signing their children up for the right preschool programs.
"Let's say a teen mom who isn't really aware of resources available to her has a child going off to kindergarten who hasn't had some of the social interactions others would have had," Frazier said. "Having a child repeat kindergarten costs about $8,000."
Schoonover-Martin pointed out that laying a solid foundation for a child early in life is proven to have a positive influence as he or she grows older.
A report released by the Virginia Early Childhood Foundation notes that children's early life experiences significantly impact how they do later in life. Early experiences, the report states, impact a children's brains and dictates how easily they learn when they are older.
"Investing in children's health and social cognitive skills in the first five years of life produces the greatest returns in human capital, providing 'upstream solutions' for future generations," the report states.
Frazier said teen parents working with Healthy Families will usually have more visits before they graduate from the program because the agency wants to help the parents graduate high school as well as help prepare the child for school.
"We really focus a lot on the education for the mother and the school readiness for the child, and that does save money for the school divisions," Frazier said.
Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or firstname.lastname@example.org