Program trains teen parents

CNJ staff photo: Sharna Johnson Martha Torres, an eighth grader from Marshall Middle School, holds her newborn son at the hospital Friday. Torres, 15, said a teen parent program has taught her about everything from nutrition and health to how to read to and play with her baby.

By Sharna Johnson: CNJ staff writer

As an eighth-grader, Martha Torres is too young to drive, hold a job, vote or join the military.

And yet Thursday she said hello to the biggest responsibility of her life — a baby boy.

Torres is one of 25 Curry County teens and one from Roosevelt County participating in the Teen Parent Program, which is designed to educate young parents and curb teen pregnancy rates, according to program coordinator Pat Beck.

The program is funded through the Children Youth and Families Department and administered by the Eastern Plains Council of Government.

“The first goal is birth control. We’re trying to reduce pregnancy (among teens), but when we get them, they’re already pregnant or have children,” Beck said.

“I want them to know they can still go on and finish school. They can still make something of their life, they don’t have to give up because they have a baby.”

Torres said the program has helped prepare her for her new role as a mother.

“They help me with a lot of stuff… I am learning a lot of stuff for the baby and how to take care of myself,” Torres said, with her family and the baby’s father circled around her hospital bed.

“(I’m learning) to keep going with my life and to keep going with the baby too.”

Watching Torres listen to a nurse giving instructions on how to care for her new son, Fernando Bribiesca III, Beck’s eyes welled up. She stepped behind a curtain in the small room to discretely wipe the tears away.

“That’s the hardest part for me. It’s really hard when they’re so young,” she whispered.

And the younger they are, the greater the challenge, Beck said.

“When they’re in middle school, it’s harder to get them to finish school,” she said. “At least when they’re in high school, they are closer to the end.”

The program takes commitment, Beck said.

Teens have to work and earn what the program offers. Mothers and fathers up to age 22 are eligible as long as they stay in school or are employed and participate regularly.

They work on a reward system, earning gift cards for local stores and services or “Momma and Daddy bucks,” which they use to pick items from the program’s in-house store full of things for the baby and home.

Incentives are earned through successfully completing classes such as child abuse and neglect prevention, sexually transmitted disease prevention, birth control, nutrition and group counseling, Beck said.

Participants are also required to volunteer in the community.

The program also connects teen parents with area services and organizations such as the Women’s Infants and Children’s (WIC) program, developmental screenings, income support and more.

And they assist with transportation to make sure teen mothers are able to go where they need to go and make it to appointments.

According to the most recent data available from the New Mexico Department of Health, the number of births to Curry County teen parents dropped 18 percent in 2006, while it rose 43 percent in Roosevelt County.

In 2006, 51 babies were born to Curry County teens 17 years old and under, compared to 62 in 2005.

In Roosevelt County, there were 35 babies born to mothers 17 and younger, up from 20 in 2005, the report showed.

Chris Minnick, DoH spokesman, said 2007’s figures are expected to be published later this year.

Beck said she hopes the numbers are still dropping, but fears they may not. She is in the process of expanding the program into De Baca, Quay, Union, Guadalupe and Harding counties.

The need for resources and education is great for teens who are struggling to complete their education and provide for their children, Beck said.

“It is serious and it’s sad I wish it wasn’t that way,” Beck said. “But times have just changed.”

• Information about the Teen Parent Program: 762-7714 or 800-784-9067