Teens Facing The Financial Pressures Of Parenthood

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(Memphis) Kemekia Townsend is balancing starting school, finding work and raising a toddler.

She loves baby Demarion, but now realizes at 19 she wasn't ready to have him.

"I wasn't in school, didn't have no job, didn't have a stable place to stay. You gotta have all that to take care of a child," says Townsend.

There may soon be more to worry about.

What she doesn't tell us on camera is that she may be pregnant again.

"It's not easy and baby costs," says 20-year-old Claytorea Bills.

She is brought to tears as she struggles to care for 1-year-old Jordan. Her family pitches in to help.

"My mom she tries to give me stuff but she tells me that's my child. We get into arguments sometimes. So I need a job so I won't have to ask her to pay for things," says Bills.

To keep her $142 a month welfare check, she had to file for child support from Jordan's father, Justin, who is very active in their baby's life but lost his driver's license after getting $700 behind in child support.

"I can't pay the fine if I ain't got no job. In order to get a job I have to have my license," says Foster.

Parents in a financial bind that can often carry over to their children.

A recent study says Memphis leads the nation when it comes to children trapped in a life of poverty.

It says Memphis children born poor are more likely to stay poor because there is little investment in their future.

Doug Imig with the Urban Child Institute says a nurturing environment is the key that can change the startling statistics.

"Language and literacy, cognitive training skills, self-confidence, and self-control all come from a child's earliest days and weeks with their family," says Imig.

There are places for families to turn.

A Parents as Teachers Program sponsored by Porter Leath helps moms and dads learn to be their child's first teacher.

"We are really helping show them it's not that hard, just to be creative and engage your child is the most critical thing," says Rob Hughes with Porter Leath.

One session highlights the dangers of secondhand and third-hand smoke on a child's health.

It gives Mom Teresa Dawson a lot to think about.

"I never thought it would be as hard and thought my kids would depend on me and need me as much as they do," says Dawson.

The Blues Project is another program that is using interactive parental classes as a research study to see if the sessions help lower infant mortality rates.

The Blues Project is operated by the University of Tennessee Health Science Center with  funding from  BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee.

"They learn about STD, birth spacing, breast-feeding, car seat safety, and financial literacy toward the end," says Dr. Linda Moss with the Blues Project.

From learning how shaking affects a baby to checking the expiration date on car seats, parents like Veronica Rayford and Kedron Ivery get life saving lessons for their little ones.

"I want the best for my baby. I just need to be a little more educated," says Rayford.

"We get a lot of good information on food and how to give her nutrition so she can turn out healthy," says Ivery.

The struggle is only beginning for the teen parents.  One key for them and their babies is finding the help that is available and keeping more help coming.

Here are some upcoming Blues Project events open to the public:

September 10: Happy Birthday, BLUES: 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Seventh-annual community health information fair hosted by The BLUES Project (Building Lasting Unshakeable Expectations into Successes) at the Hollywood Community Center, 1560 N. Hollywood, in recognition of September as Infant Mortality Awareness Month. Lunch, door prizes and activities. Special guests: Summer Owens, author of Life After Birth: a Memoir of Survival and Success as a Teenage Mother; and Dr. Christina Rosenthal, founder of the Determined to be a Doctor Someday mentorship program. The BLUES Project is a community outreach and research project that provides education, counseling, social support, and community resource referrals to participants during pregnancy and until the baby’s second birthday. For more information: (901) 448-3750 or go to http://www.uthsc.edu/blues/ or email phanby@uthsc.edu.

September 24: Dancing for BLUES: Line dance-a-thon, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. at the Student Alumni Center (SAC) dining hall, 800 Madison on the campus of the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. A dance instructor and a DJ will teach dances. Information about infant mortality and the BLUES Project will be available. Donations accepted. This event is in recognition of Infant Mortality Awareness Month. For more information: (901) 448-3750, go http://www.uthsc.edu/blues/ or email phanby@uthsc.edu.