As manager of the Collective Impact Project, no two days are the same for India Rose.
She might be interviewing parents. She could be writing meeting summaries. Or you might find her staring at data – “piles and piles and piles of data,” as a colleague describes it.
For the past year, she has led a project looking at the myriad of teen pregnancy prevention efforts in South Carolina to see what’s working and to pinpoint gaps in services. Through the Collective Impact Project, the research will develop into a state health plan to address teen pregnancy prevention.
A $237,803 grant from The Duke Endowment is supporting the effort.
“The goal is to take a deep breath and identify what all is going on currently, what still needs to be done, and to figure out the next steps,” says Forrest Alton, director of the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. “We’ll come back with a report at the end of this project that lays out the landscape in South Carolina and gives us a blueprint for the future.”
Without the Collective Impact Project, Alton says, there’s no way to truly understand successes so far. Equally important, there’s no clear way to identify the work that remains.
Progress – and Challenges
Teen birth rates have fallen in the United States – and South Carolina’s progress is even greater than the country as a whole. While the U.S. saw a 24.6 percent teen birth decline from 2007 to 2011, the decline in South Carolina topped 27 percent.
“Has there been progress? Absolutely,” Alton says from his office in downtown Columbia. “We know preventing teen pregnancy is an achievable goal and we’ve had significant accomplishments. That’s a reason to celebrate.”
But the battle isn’t over.
South Carolina still has the 11th highest teen birth rate in the nation. Six thousand girls under the age of 20 become mothers every year. Twenty-six percent of teens who gave birth in 2011 were already teen parents.
Teen mothers are less likely to finish high school (only 38 percent do), and are more likely to live in poverty. According to the SC Campaign, South Carolina spent at least $197 million on costs associated with teen childbearing in 2008.
“Data show that children of teen mothers are more likely to be born into single-parent homes, more likely to spend their life in poverty, and are much less likely to show up at school ready to learn,” Alton says. “There often are direct consequences to two generations. When children raise children, the odds of future success are not in anyone’s favor.”
The SC Campaign was founded in 1994 to combat high rates of teen pregnancy. It doesn’t offer direct services, but provides training programs for professionals, mini-grants to community organizations, education, technical assistance, advocacy and research. It’s the only organization that works in all 46 counties exclusively on the reduction of teen pregnancy.
In 2010, the SC Campaign was awarded nearly $15 million in federal funding to support specific prevention efforts across the state. With those dollars, Alton says, the opportunity for further progress is “extraordinary.”
Asking Questions, Finding Answers
The challenge is understanding how all the pieces fit together.
With the grant from The Duke Endowment, the SC Campaign has the resources needed to address two unresolved questions:
How does the state maximize and measure the collective impact of dollars that have been leveraged to address teen pregnancy? And how does South Carolina sustain this continued progress for the long-term?
Alton believes the answers will provide the key to decreasing teen pregnancy rates with greater efficiency and effectiveness.
“We are all putting effort and money and resources in all these things and there is no knowledge of the collective impact of all that work,” he says. “Our health department runs Title X programs that offer contraception. Our social services department funds some local teen pregnancy prevention efforts. Our department of education does programming in the schools. We have federal money that’s coming to nonprofits. But except for in a real cursory way, the data isn’t being shared, so it’s hard to say what’s really happening in South Carolina.”
That’s the collective impact piece.
“We want to have a shared vision, common terminology and common measurements,” Alton says. “We also want to come up with some answer to the sustainability question. A lot of this work started with a huge influx of federal dollars that aren’t going to stay forever. So at what level will any of this work ever be able to be sustained?”
The grant from the Endowment came through the Child Care program area, and it’s that program area’s first substantial effort in teen pregnancy prevention.
“Preventing child abuse and neglect is a key aspect of our work, and teen pregnancy is a predictor of difficult situations,” says Rhett Mabry, president of the Endowment. “The more our Trustees focused on prevention and early intervention, the more it seemed that we should be involved in this arena. We saw this as another step upstream.”
Tamika Williams, associate director of Child Care, agrees.
“With this work, we are contributing to an effort that will help young people delay parenthood, finish school, acquire job skills and plan a future,” she says. “South Carolina has made tremendous progress in reducing the teen pregnancy rate, and now it’s time to have a more comprehensive approach to long-term impact.”
The funding helped the SC Campaign hire India Rose in the summer of 2012. She holds a Ph.D. and Masters of Public Health in Health Promotion, Education and Behavior from the University of South Carolina. It’s her job to coordinate the Collective Impact Project and keep it moving forward.
This spring, she facilitated focus groups with middle school parents in school districts that implement the evidence-based prevention program, “It’s Your Game, Keep it Real.” She has analyzed the data from these groups and will develop internal and peer-reviewed publications to share the results. This fall, she’ll host regional group discussions with people who work in the field. And she regularly meets with a leadership team from public and private organizations in the state.
By next summer, the teen pregnancy prevention health plan should be completed. Rose calls it “the great hurrah of the entire project.”
“We’ll bring everything together in a concise and sophisticated document that will help organizations doing this work and assist future funders who want to make an investment in teen pregnancy prevention,” she says. “It will be a guiding document for how to move South Carolina forward.”
The South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy has advice for parents on how to start a conversation with children about healthy relationships. The Parent Portal – Let’s Talk 365 includes tips and scripts, age-appropriate guidelines and additional resources.
Tamika D. Williams
Associate Director, Child Care