- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy recently continued its focus on adolescents being the experts on their own lives with a round-table discussion titled “Helping Teen Fathers Succeed.”

Attended by educators, child-welfare workers and health care providers, the gathering dispelled a plethora of myths about teen fathers.

Teen fathers have gotten a lot of press for not sticking around and not supporting their children. But a panel of young men at the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation’s Barbara Jordan Conference Center in Northwest showed a different side.

“It was hard to keep a steady job. I also did a lot of side work, cutting grass and washing cars. I had a partial scholarship to go to Kansas to fly airplanes, but I had to change my plans and go to Plan B, my backup plan, and I couldn’t accept my scholarship. I had to stay here, get a job and help my [baby’s] mother because she was still in school,” said Kantu Griffin, an 18-year-old from Southeast who has an 18-month-old daughter.

“I was working at a movie theater,” said Lezli Hines, a 19-year-old father with a 1-year-old daughter and another child on the way. “That wasn’t enough money to get the things I wanted for my daughter, but it helped me build up some chicken scratch.”

Miguel Cruz, 18 years old with a 10-month-old son named Anthony, had to drop out of school to get a full-time job when he found out his girlfriend was pregnant. “I wasn’t prepared at all,” Mr. Cruz said. “I didn’t know how to do nothing, change diapers, fix bottles, nothing; it was hard.”

Family support is essential for teen parents. “My family calls all the time now, checking on my son; they really love him,” said Mr. Cruz, who moved from Virginia to share parenting duties with his girlfriend.

Each year, nearly 1,000 teen girls give birth in the District, and many teen-pregnancy-prevention programs concentrate entirely on their needs. However, according to the D.C. Campaign’s Executive Director Brenda Rhodes Miller, “Ignoring teen boys doesn’t make sense. They’re the other half of the equation, and if we want to reduce teen pregnancy in the District, we’ve got to pay attention to boys and girls.”

The latest data from the health department show that the 2006 teen pregnancy rate is 58.7 per 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19. The teen pregnancy rate usually lags two years behind real time.

Jobs, finishing their education and learning how to deal with conflict are key issues for the teen fathers.

According to James Wood, an 18-year-old from Southeast, “Being a father is a lot of responsibility. I will not be an absent father. I gotta learn a lot to help my child.”

“My baby mama and I aren’t together,” said 19-year-old Stewart McCommons, whose son is 3 months old. “She’s always talking about the baby being around certain people. I’m not trying to give my son two mothers.”

Mr. Griffin offered advice: “If you don’t do diapers, this is not something you want to get yourself into.”

“If you are doubting it, then you shouldn’t do it,” he said. “If it is 99.9 percent, and you have that 1 percent if you’re not sure, don’t do it.”

Mr. Griffin also spoke on the importance of education and employment. “Get yourself through school, get yourself a job,” he said. “It’s going to be a lot of stuff you just can’t handle.”

Joyce A. Fourth Clemons iscommunications director for D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

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