Teen Pregnancy: Who is Helping Young Parents

WELCH, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Being a mom is tough work. Being a working mom is too.

"Don't give up, keep trying, even if you have to do it by yourself, you can do it, it's just really hard," said Heather Kiser.

Kiser, 19, is giving that advice to other girls who find themselves being teen moms. Statistics show nearly one in 10 girls where she lives, McDowell County, will become a mom.

In addition to the help she gets from her own Mom she credits Sarah Diaz from the "Parents as Teachers" Program.

Kiser met Diaz when she got word that the pregnant teen was sleeping on an air mattress. Diaz helped find her a bed and then helped her find self-confidence as a mom by enrolling her in the program. It's federally funded and it helps mom through the pre-natal days through five-years-old.

"They are skeptical when they first come in the home because so many agencies say let's work on this," Diaz explained, "Our focus is what are you doing great and how can we help you do it better."

The program, which runs on grants, has only been in McDowell County for a year-and-a-half.

"It takes time for people to trust this new program," explained director Karen Wilson.

Right now they have 26 moms and a total of 32 children enrolled in the program. With the states highest teen pregnancy rate, Wilson knows it's just scratching the surface.

Wilson said getting the word out has been their biggest challenge.

"I've tried to get a bunch more people with Sarah," Kiser said, the teen also believes some people are afraid to ask for help.

Wilson said she just wants to let them know that this is a program that helps and is not wanting to point the finger at them.

"They get the finger pointed at them a whole lot," said Wilson.

She also wants to help them stay in school.

While in McDowell County the program is in its infancy, running for 17 years.

"If it wasn't for this program putting me on and accelerating me in school, I probably would have dropped out, got a full-time job and got my GED," said teen father Jesse Clere.

He and the mother of his child, Jennifer Munson, are parents to eight-month-old Brayden, and students of Heather Miller.

"Parents don't realize they are their children's first teachers in life. They think a teacher is someone in a classroom and they take them to school and learn from them," Miller said.

Heather became a part of the program when she was 28-years-old. At the time she was a new mom who just wanted to learn as much as she could about being a mom and the development of her children.

Miller comes to Riverside high school each week and then visits her clients for a home visit once a month.

But for Miller coming into the school is key for Munson who has also considered dropping out of school.

"That is the main part that is keeping me here cause I know when I come to school I am getting that help also not only the education but learning more about my child everyday."

Right now Wilson and Diaz do not go into any McDowell County Schools for visits with their clients.

Similar to what happens Riverside, Director of Attendance, Student Services and Child Nutrition, Bonita Miano, said that the school nurse is allowed to alert students who are expecting of the Parents as Teachers Program.

She said the district is doing great things and taking great steps to ensure that the problem of teenage pregnancy is curbed.

Miano said family planning is now available to students inside the health clinics in the schools. Miano adds that once they started seeing a spike in the numbers they started an advisory council to focus on the issue. It included state and local leaders.

"We looked at different ways we could help improve that rate," Miano said.

She is also excited about a grant from the Children's Home Society that she says will be coupled with other grants, including a teen pregnancy grant, to use in after-school programs.

Miano said it will focus on "career awareness, (it) looks at the individual holistically, and it builds up their self-esteem"

Unfortunately, in the 2013-14 school year Miano says the district will lose half of its guidance counseling staff. Leaving the McDowell School District with just two.

Miller read a letter from a Riverside Guidance Counselor that explained how she'd helped ease some burden off counselors. She said being in the school with the students has helped to build a rapport.

Neither districts have a day care inside the school. In McDowell County there is only one daycare provider in the Welch area. It's difficult for young moms who go to school in the River View part of the county.

"I have seen more young ladies in that area who may drop because of daycare issues than I do in the Welch area," Miano said.

Wilson says her goal by year three of the program is to have 75 mom's enrolled.

"The best part is the freedom that 'Parents as Teachers' gives us to do whatever it takes to help a family," Wilson said.

Both Munson and Kiser know the benefits. They've reaped them.

"Made me feel real peaceful, like I didn't have to worry about everything," Kiser said, who added they even got help around the holidays.

"It would be way harder," Munson said, "I don't have a job so the program has definitely got me on my feet," Munson wants to finish school and go to a technical school to become a nurse.

"Sometimes parents have the skills they just don't realize it," Diaz said with a smile. She's ready to help more mom's in McDowell County see their strengths.

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