In a perfect world, young girls — and we picked that word only after careful consideration — wouldn’t be having children until they could shoulder the financial burden and provide a stable and loving home with an involved father.
But the world isn’t perfect, and neither is Robeson County, which, according to officials with the Health Department, at any single time has as many as 700 pregnant women who are depending on Medicaid. Many of them are too young to be having children: According to our Health Department, there are currently more than 100 girls ages 15 to 19 pregnant in this county, which gives Robeson the second highest teen pregnancy rate in North Carolina.
All this makes our county a good fit for the the Nurse-Family Partnership, a home-visiting program offered by the Health Department for poor, first-time mothers. One of eight in the state, the local program is funded with public and private money, helping first-time mothers who need medical, instructional and emotional support from the early stages of pregnancy until the child turns 2 years old.
The program, established in 2009, graduated 38 families in its first class, and soon the number of expectant and new mothers enrolled in the program is expected to reach 175.
The numbers provided by the Health Department testify to the program’s efficacy.
— Since the start of the program, there has been a 60 percent reduction in violence in the homes of the clients.
— There has been an 18 percent reduction in smoking among the mothers.
— There has been a 100 percent reduction is alcohol and drug use.
— All the children are current with immunizations.
— More than half the mothers are in school.
— No children have died.
We struggle a bit with some of the numbers, particularly the 100 percent reduction in alcohol and drug use, believing that is an impossible claim to accurately measure, but it’s clear the program is enhancing a lot of lives.
It’s a lopsided debate on whether or not teenage children who can’t support themselves or properly provide care for their children should be having babies, although we are sure we would find defenders of such behavior.
But what shouldn’t be argued is that every child deserves a fair start to life — and on that count, the Nurse-Family Partnership is helping to level the field. The dividends, some immediate, should compound as these children make their way through life.