The noted poet and author Maya Angelou eloquently and poignantly stated that "children's talents to endure stems from their ignorance of alternatives." I could not agree more. The capacity of young people to persevere, even under the most adverse conditions, never ceases to amaze me. If we as a nation are to break the cycle of poverty, crime and the growing underclass of young people ill equipped to be productive citizens, we cannot ignore our most vulnerable youth.
There are approximately 500,000 young people in foster care in the US, most of whom suffered severe physical, sexual, and emotional abuse and neglect at the hands of family member. These young people are at a greater risk of an early pregnancy. Nearly half of the girls in foster care become pregnant by age 19.
Children born to teens have less supportive and stimulating environments, poorer health, lower cognitive development, and worse educational outcomes. Children of teen mothers are at increased risk of being in foster care and becoming teen parents themselves, thereby repeating the cycle.
We at the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, an organization I founded in 1995, are committed to eliminating adolescent pregnancy in Georgia and hope that our relentless campaign sets an example for the entire nation. One of our stalwart programs is the G-CAPP Second Chance Homes Network (SCH), established in 2001 to provide safe and stable housing to teen mothers, many of whom are in the state foster care system.
Before we started the SCH network, there were only 10 beds in the entire state available for a teen mother in need of a safe living environment. Now, thanks to the generous investment of the Georgia Department of Human Resources, G-CAPP operates 11 homes throughout the state with 58 beds for teen mothers and their children. We have helped over 400 teen mothers with their children. The overarching goal of SCH is to build strong families and break the cycle of persistent poverty and dependency associated with teen childbearing. From our experience, the challenges facing this particular group of adolescents are daunting and pronounced.
Fortunately, our SCH Network is transforming the lives of each young mother and her child who stays in the homes. With love, dignity, and hope we empower young mothers to take ownership of their lives. Evaluation findings of our SCH Network have consistently shown that providing a safe and supportive living environment for teen mothers and their children can help mothers stay free of repeat teen pregnancies, stay in school, rebuild relationships with their families and the fathers of their children, learn and practice parenting and life skills, and make better life choices.
Two years after leaving the program, 63% of teens age 18 and over were employed. Most important, only 16% of the mothers became pregnant again with about half of the births occurring when the mother was 20 years old or older.
Simply put, we are creating solutions for young women who want to be great parents, citizens and role models. Think of it, young women who did not have a stable family of their own are now matriarchs of their own families, breaking the cycle of abuse, neglect, low education attainment and poverty.
With so much talk about teen pregnancy prevention at the federal level, I hope special consideration will be given to children in the foster care system. Investing in the prevention of early parenthood can save our country billions of dollars annually. It is estimated that teen childbearing cost the child welfare system at least 2.3 billion dollars in 2004 alone. Imagine reinvesting that money into the future of our young people by preventing teen pregnancy, increasing graduation rates in the US and preparing our young people to lead this country into the 21st century equipped with skills necessary to stay competitive in the fast changing global market. There are no more tomorrows. We have to act today. Our young people are assets to be cultivated and nurtured, let's begin treating them that way.