By RENEE FITE
Oklahoma ranks fourth in the nation in teen pregnancy, and Tahlequah High School has on average 25 pregnant teens every school year.
Teen pregnancy was the topic of a town hall meeting Monday night, hosted by the National Indian Women’s Health Resource Center.
In 2010, an Oklahoma State Department of Health publication reported 27 percent of teen mothers were intentionally trying to get pregnant, while 57 percent had unintended pregnancies, but were not using contraceptives and didn’t mind getting pregnant.
Teen childbearing cost Oklahomans $190 million in 2008.
“Teenage pregnancy impacts every person,” said Levi Keehler, associate director of Behavioral Health for the Cherokee Nation and facilitator of the meeting. “We’re coming together to work toward improving the health of all people. We have statistics and data to help us pinpoint areas of greatest concern and develop strategies to address this.”
The purpose of the meeting was to establish a coalition to raise awareness and make positive changes regarding teen pregnancy prevention, Keehler said.
“This coalition is well-positioned to address the issue, because we already have outstanding first steps with established coalitions like Tahlequah [Bringing Everyone’s Strengths Together] and others well known here,” he said.
A presentation by Keehler of findings established through interviews conducted by members of the National Indian Women’s Health Resource Center, included an electronic question and answer “quiz” of audience members. Findings of the focus group of characteristics of women ages 13-21 show that education is not enough to effectively prevent teen pregnancy, but it is where the change has to begin.
“Findings show these girls are saavy, unrealistic, think they’re invincible, bullet-proof and live in the moment,” Keehler said.
Education programs provide incentives and facts to help girls set and keep boundaries, and can teach males to respect females and themselves, the study shows.
Before change can begin, the community must be ready to address the issue, Keehler said.
“All communities are ready to do something; we have to match the plans to where the community is, to get them where they need to be,” he said.
For more information or a presentation to your club or organization, contact Trisha Stallings, Cherokee Nation prevention specialist, at 918 316-0595 or Levi Keehler at 918 207-3898.
The next meetingabout teen pregnancy prevention will be held at 6 p.m., Monday, Nov. 4, with the location to be announced.
To read more about the reactions at the town hall meeting, visit www.tahlequahTDP.com/online exclusives.