The battle over birth control - Contraceptives in schools. DuSable clinic at heart of controversy.
(Page 3 of 3)
``Many children born to children are years behind when they get to school age,'' Steinhagen says. ``You just can't make up for the experiences that children of older middle class parents have had by the time they come to school, especially in speaking and listening skills.''Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
She explains that, in many instances, the unemployed and the poor must hustle for food, shelter, and survival before they can afford time for skill boosting. Along with other educators, Steinhagen contends that low self-esteem plays a key role in teen pregnancy. So does the closed door to employment, a crisis constantly confronting young people trapped within ghetto borders.
There's no dispute, the DuSable area is in tatters, ranked as one of the country's highest concentrations of poverty with unemployment figures averaging 22 percent (the national rate is seven). The high school stands in the shadow of the Robert Taylor homes, a public housing development that stacks poverty skyward. Twenty-eight buildings, each rising 16 stories, house approximately 28,000 people whose average age is 15. The majority of DuSable's students come from these homes, and 79 percent of them live below the poverty level, many existing far beneath the government's cut-off line of $10,989 annually for a family of four.
According to clinic director Davis-Scott, 33 percent of the teen mothers nationwide have a second baby within two years. ``If the teen didn't drop out of school the first time, the potential for her dropping out the second time is even higher,'' Scott says.
Alfreda Jones knows all about this scenario. She has five children, none enrolled at DuSable now. In speaking about her youngest daughter, Mrs. Jones says, ``My young one, she got pregnant when she just got in the door [of DuSable]. She was 14. Had it at 15. Had another at 17. Maybe if they'd had birth control when she was there, she wouldn't have had the babies.'' The daughter, who dropped out of school, now lives on welfare and is trying to get her GED (General Educational Development) diploma.
Michael Ellis and Shirley Bims Ellis, who have a freshman daughter, Michele, at DuSable, are both in support of the clinic's birth-control efforts. They cite abstinence as the only real solution to teen pregnancy among unmarried youths.
``But at this particular time in this particular place, we are trying to meet the current problem practically,'' says Mrs. Ellis. ``Children simply can't care for babies either financially, mentally, or physically,'' she explains. ``We are black people trying to help ourselves. There is no way we can survive if we have children having children.''
Not surprisingly, opponents of the clinic disagree.
``They [the parents] are guilty of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. They're just as responsible as if their child broke a car window. The courts take children away from parents for all other crimes but not teen pregnancy,'' Rev. Crawford says. For teens over 16, the pastor says, ``they should marry and take care of their responsibility. They're old enough to legally have a job, and they're legally at the age of accountability.''
In the past 16 months, DuSable students have made more than 14,400 visits to the clinic. Of these, approximately 12,400 were for physicals, immunizations, first aid, and other medical services. Only about 14 percent were for contraceptives or counseling on sexual activity.
A registered nurse, Davis-Scott is also director of a similar clinic that opened this fall at Orr High School on Chicago's West Side, where teen pregnancy and infant mortality rates are high, and incomes are low. The population is principally black and Hispanic. As with DuSable, the Chicago School Board split over the contraceptive issue. But those members contending that the birth control role is inappropriate for schools lost ground. And Orr students - with written parental consent - can get their contraceptives behind the black door marked 109.