North Florida’s Franklin County has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the state. Between 2013 and 2015, there were 28 births per thousand girls between 15 to 17 years old. Jocelyn Beever reports the figures remain high even as overall teen births have dropped in recent years.
When it comes to teaching sex ed in Franklin County, abstinence is the choice word.
Choices is a federally funded Sexual Risk Avoidance Program, taught to 6th to 11th grade students in Franklin County. The focus is not on sexual education, but on making healthy decisions to avoid negative outcomes, says Choices Facilitator D.T Simmons.
“Could that outcome be something such as teen pregnancy? It could be, but we don’t focus on that. We focus on the healthy decisions vs unhealthy and the risk of potential outcomes that may be a result of those decisions," says Simmons.
“At best, it’s sort of this fear-based incomplete education. At worst, it can give students inaccurate information. For example, in Florida, it’s not required that sex education be medically accurate,” Burdette says.
Amy Burdette teaches sociology at Florida State University. She says teens are already thinking about sex, and
“There’s no evidence whatsoever that talking to teens about sex leads them to have sex.”
Despite the high birth rate in Franklin County, Capital City Youth Services doesn’t counsel many pregnant teens in the school district. CCYS is an agency located in Tallahassee that provides temporary housing and resources to youth in crisis. Clinical Director Jason Ishley says pregnant teens are likely to drop out and seek services from CCYS a few years later. And, he says doing outreach in the county is hard.
Franklin is made up of small fishing villages, with no hub city and Ishley says residents are wary of outsiders.
“It’s very ‘you’re not from here, you weren’t born and raised here. We’ll handle it ourselves, don’t worry about us’ sort of thing. I think it’s kind of that inclusive mindset in the community that may prevent us from seeing these situations more often,” he says.
This tight-knit community holds their traditions closely. Ishley says a lot of teen boys are likely to follow in the family footsteps and fish, while the girls may become pregnant and drop out.
“There are so many younger moms. To them, it’s just their lifestyle. They’re used to it. So, they may not view it so much as ‘we need to get help for this’ it’s three generations back of been having kids at a young age,” he says.
Meanwhile, Sharon Owens with the Franklin County Health Department says their Healthy Start Coalition sees a lot of pregnant teens. Healthy Start provides OB care, offers parenting and childbirth classes, and connects pregnant teens with local pregnancy resources.
Owens says “Immediately upon a positive pregnancy test, the mother is eligible for Medicaid.”
Medicaid is a state and federal partnership that provides healthcare to low income Floridians. A study by the Guttmacher Institute says unintended pregnancies cost Florida taxpayers more than $400 million in 2010. They say the public could save a lot of money through preventions.
But part of the problem is there aren’t many pregnancy resources near or in Franklin County. Girls who want to terminate their pregnancy have to drive an hour and a half to Tallahassee for abortion services.
“The centers in Tallahassee are more in an area where there’s FSU, and they’re looking for abortions and abortion-minded women. Where our center is young girls, usually high school age that find themselves in an unplanned pregnancy and they're not sure what to do,” says Chatham.
Angie Chatham is the director of Wakulla Pregnancy Center, a pro-life facility. It counsels pregnant girls, helps them with the adoption process, teaches them parenting skills, and provides supplies donated by local churches and organizations.
“Free diapers, free maternity clothes, free furniture. Whatever you would need for a baby and the mother during the time of pregnancy,” she says.
The center is also an hour and a half drive from Franklin County, but it’s the closest resource available to pregnant teens.
“The biggest barrier for most of the girls that live any distance is transportation. Especially if they’re young, because most of them don’t have cars so they’re relying on friends. And I know that there’s not much of a system anywhere around for transportation. There’s not a bus system or anything like that,” says Chatham.
Florida’s teen birth rate has gone down over the last 10 years, but it remains a persistent and stubborn issue in Franklin County.