Are teen parents costing Vt. taxpayers? - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Are teen parents costing Vt. taxpayers?

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Laurie Smith, 17, juggles getting ready for the day and caring for her 11-week-old daughter, Amari. It's not what she pictured she would be doing almost a year earlier when she had plans to tour colleges. Then, she found out she was 16 and pregnant.

"I was in tears just because this was a whole shock for me," she said. "This is like, my whole life is about to change and everything I had planned, everything I imagined for my future isn't gonna be what it is, it's gonna be something different."

Smith says she had no intentions of being a teen mom.

"I was that 1 percent that gets pregnant. I used birth control. I made sure of it," she said.

Vermont has one of the lowest teen pregnancy rates in the nation. The most recent federal report ranks Vermont 49 out of 51 in the U.S. in teen birth rates. Vermont hovers around 8 percent for teens 15-17 years old. New Mexico has the highest teen pregnancy rate at 26 percent.

Still, teen parent advocates say this is a problem we cannot ignore.

"The reality is though there are pockets, it isn't a problem that doesn't exist obviously," said Caprice Hover, the executive director of the Rutland County Parent-Child Center.

The Rutland County Parent-Child Center currently serves 3,000 children and parents in Rutland County. Hover says preventing more teen pregnancy and educating young parents is a key to keeping taxpayers from supporting teens who get pregnant.

"We know that if they don't get their high school diploma then they're not gonna earn enough money to survive, so we will be supplementing them through food stamps or other programs," Hover said.

A recent report by the RCPCC says that preventing one teen pregnancy saves taxpayers almost $10,000 each year. Preventing one mother and child from requiring public assistance saves taxpayers over $34,000.

Laurie Smith has come full circle after receiving her high school diploma though the Rutland County Parent-Child Center. She heads off in the RCPCC van with Amari to volunteer at the center and help other teen parents, while Tammy Cabezola of the center helps her look for a job, and they celebrate another young mom, Tanya Gomes, completing her high school education.

"It just feels great that I can move on with my life and instead of just having to come and finish school," Gomes said.

Although she says she is handling her unexpected situation as a teen mom and doing the best she can, Smith admits it's very tough.

"I wouldn't choose to be 16 and pregnant again," she said. "I would love to have Amari in my life; It wouldn't hurt to have her a couple years down the road."

Teen parent advocates say that addressing teen pregnancy is also a key to battling Vermont's opiate problem. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that increased instances of adverse childhood experiences such as neglect or household dysfunction increase the risk of illicit drug use. By teaching teens how to raise their children, the Rutland County Parent-Child Center says they are helping young parents to raise stable Vermonters with bright futures.

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