Federal Grants Boost Mississippi's Teen Pregnancy Prevention Efforts

Mississippi may have the highest teen birth rate in the nation, but officials at the state’s health and human services departments have reason to be hopeful that they can make a change. Some of the things fueling their optimism: a new law mandating sex education in the schools, a governor’s initiative to reduce teen pregnancy, and two grants from the Family and Youth Services Bureau’s Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program.

“What we want to see is a decrease in teen pregnancies,” says Dr. Mary Currier, state health officer at the Mississippi State Department of Health.

Funding from the Personal Responsibility Education Program has enabled her department to provide training and support for sex education in 27 school districts. Located in the 15 counties with the highest teen birth rates, the districts will put in place “abstinence-plus” curricula that have been shown to be effective at reducing rates of teen pregnancy and birth and sexually transmitted diseases.

“We wanted to know we’re supporting something that can be effective if it’s implemented with fidelity,” Dr. Currier says. Her department works closely with the Mississippi Department of Education, which oversaw the process of compiling a list of curricula from which the school districts could choose.

Dr. Currier, who took part in the vetting process, says she was impressed by the educational materials. “It’s not all about sex. It’s about respecting yourself and respecting others and negotiating relationships. It’s really about how to be an adult in a difficult world. They’re things you’d want your kids to know about how to relate to other people.”

Also collaborating in the effort to reduce the state’s teen pregnancy and birth rates are Mississippi’s Boys and Girls Clubs. Thirty clubs throughout the state have received funding from the Mississippi Department of Human Services, via its State Abstinence Education grant from FYSB.

Vera Butler, bureau director of the Foundation for Families and Support at the department says clubs will use the “Choose the Best” abstinence education curriculum and their own youth development programs.  

Clubs will also teach parents about the issue. “We’ve got to go out and educate the parents so that they can understand what their kids are learning,” Butler says.

Both the health and human services department, along with the state department of education’s Office of Healthy Schools, are taking an active role in the governor’s initiative, called Healthy Teens for a Better Mississippi. Butler and Dr. Currier say collaboration is essential to getting their state out of that top spot on the teen birth rate list.

“It takes approaching this issue from every side you can ever think of to make a difference,” Dr. Currier says.