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High school, pregnancy don't mix
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High school can be tough enough with friends, homework and peer pressure. Toss a baby into the mix and it becomes a burden that could negatively impact the rest of your life.
That was the message District Attorney Lisa Zavogiannis delivered Tuesday at Warren County High School when she spoke to freshmen about avoiding teen pregnancy in a campaign that’s called What’s the Rush?
“There are long-term consequences to becoming a teenage parent,” said Zavogiannis. “Babies are adorable, but somebody needs to have them other than a teenager.”
Zavogiannis said statistics show less than half of mothers who have a child before they are 18 graduate from high school, and less than 2 percent have a college degree by age 30.
In Warren County, some progress is being made, according to school system nurse Debi Martin. She says the local teen pregnancy rate has dropped to 9.6 percent, which is down significantly from 14.3 percent just a few years ago.
But teen pregnancy is still a glaring local problem. When Zavogiannis asked a class of 28 students if they knew a girl in high school who had given birth, 10 raised their hands.
Students watched a 14-minute video where they heard real-life stories from other Tennessee high school students about how a baby changed their lives.
One 16-year-old mother said high school has not been the same since she gave birth. She said it changed from football games and dances to sitting at home and taking care of a baby every night.
One 16-year-old father said he got a job to support his child, but got in an argument with the mother. He said it had been two months since he had seen his child and it would require hiring an attorney and fighting in court just to get visitation privileges.
Zavogiannis says no matter what your experience as a teen parent there is one constant for everyone – the expense. Zavogiannis says the cost of raising a child from birth to 17 is estimated at $148,000.
For most boys, that means child support payments.
“If you miss your payments, I can put you in jail and I will put you in jail,” said Zavogiannis. “I do it because it’s my job to collect for the children of this state.”
Zavogiannis showed several illustrations of how costly child support payments can be. She said for anyone earning minimum wage, child support is $70 per week.
Another example showed someone earning $8.50 an hour and working 20 hours per week. Their total monthly income is $680. Of that amount, $575 would go to child support leaving them with only $105 a month to pay for food, gas and any other expenses.
“Child support is a responsibility that doesn’t disappear,” said Zavogiannis, who said one local father managed to dodge the system by moving around and changing jobs until his two children were in their 20s. “When we finally found him, we took him to court and he was ordered to pay $59,000 to the mother for the care of his children because the amount of child support owed never goes away.”
Missing one weekly child support payment can land you in jail for 10 days, Zavogiannis said. Missing an entire year can result in 520 days in jail, she said.