She was 14 and proudly on her high school’s freshman honor roll. Then she found out she was pregnant. “I felt like I lost everything,” 19-year-old Korpo recalls. Within weeks, she began falling behind in class.
Korpo’s experience isn’t unique. In 2013, close to 600 babies, or almost 4 percent of all births in Hennepin County, were to mothers age 15-19. And while that’s a declining trend (PDF), teen moms and their babies remain a public health concern, both here and nationwide.
Since 2012, Teen HOPE has helped 214 participants graduate from high school or earn their GED.
Number of births by
teen moms, 15-19
in Hennepin County
According to the CDC, only 50% of teen mothers receive a high school diploma by age 22, versus 90% of women who did not give birth during adolescence. Without diplomas, teen parents may end up in lower paying jobs, with reduced access to housing, health care, and ability to provide for their children. But well-designed local programs are helping teen parents and their children be successful.
Korpo is an example. Instead of dropping out, she transferred to the Osseo Area Learning Center, an alternative high school. After her son, Theo, was born, she was connected with Teen HOPE, a Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency (MVNA) initiative.
Hennepin County’s Better Together Hennepin program provides sex education, high quality reproductive care, youth development opportunities, and connections to caring adults. From 2007 to 2013, the program achieved an almost 50 percent decline in the teen birth rate.
Teen HOPE helps adolescents get re-engaged in a high school program, study for their GED, and get connected to college and career planning resources at two engagement sites — Minneapolis Community and Technical College and Brooklyn Center Academy. But much of their work takes place outside of a classroom, buoyed by the program's public health nurses, social workers, and community health workers. For instance, Teen HOPE nurses make regular trips to new parents’ homes to monitor the health of mom and baby. They bring safety items such as Pack and Plays and baby gates and help parents fill out paperwork for daycare so they can keep going to class.
"We talk with grandma. We talk with grandpa. We're just really involved in their lives," says Cara Deanes, an employment counselor with the nonprofit HIRED. Echoes Jill Anlauf, a public health nurse, "We got where they are. Our clients trust us. That's the success of the program."
Mary Pat Sigurdson, Teen HOPE coordinator, also credits the program's success to MVNA's "intense collaboration" with entities like Hennepin County Human Services and Public Health, the Minneapolis Health Department, and the Pohlad Foundation. Since its 2012 launch as a Minnesota Department of Human Services pilot program, 214 participants have graduated from high school or earned their GED. In Hennepin County, participation in the program is a requirement for teen parents who receive government assistance, and at any point in time, Teen HOPE serves approximately 250 teen parent families.
In 2012, Korpo had another child, a daughter named Genesis. All the while, she continued to stay in school with the support of Teen HOPE. Today, she and her children’s father, a 22-year-old certified nursing assistant, remain a couple. He’s in college and hopes to become a nurse.
On a recent October morning, Joanna Daggett, Brooklyn Center Academy’s engagement site manager, helps Korpo with math — offering encouragement with a soothing smile. On the wall above Daggett and Korpo, a poster compares average salaries and jobs of people with no GED, a GED, an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree, and advanced degree — a reminder that education pays.
Korpo’s near-term goal is to pass her GED. Afterward, she plans to get post-secondary education and find a job. She’s taken career assessments through Teen HOPE, and verified that she likes dealing with money, talking with people, and customer service. Working at a bank is appealing.
During a visit by Cara Deanes to Korpo’s parents’ Brooklyn Park home, Theo and Genesis frolick in the backyard with Sally, the family dog — while Cara and Korpo talk. Asked what she tells other teen moms and dads, Korpo says, “There’s a better tomorrow. Keep fighting.”
To learn more about Teen HOPE, contact Mary Pat Sigurdson at firstname.lastname@example.org.