ACLU reports on lack of resources for teen moms in the Central Valley

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A new report by the ACLU shows teen pregnancy rates here in the Central Valley are some of the highest in the state but there still aren't enough educational resources for teen mothers. The American Civil Liberties Union analyzed 22 local school districts and found nearly 3,000 teens in Madera, Tulare and Fresno Counties gave birth to babies in 2012.

The report states despite the large number, there aren't enough programs to help get the teens through high school. Velma Coccellato who works at Fresno Barrios Unidos, says not much has changed since she was a teen mom nearly thirty years ago.

Coccellato said, "My son will be 26-years-old tomorrow. These girls are facing the same challenges that I did 26 years ago so it may not be worse, it may be worse, but it's definitely a stagnant process."

Coccellato says she's not surprised, only saddened, by the ACLU's report. It stated Madera, Tulare and Fresno counties had some of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state. Still, with 2,891 babies born to teens in these counties in 2012, very few resources were available to them.

Coccellato said, "That's a big challenge for the kids because they're faced with the same rules as their non-parent teens and we're not asking for any special treatment. We're asking for equal treatment."

The ACLU reported that of the 22 districts they researched, only seven offered a teen pregnancy program with flexible attendance requirements. Fewer offered daycare options for teen moms or education on breastfeeding. Fresno Unified School District offers what's called the "PACE program" which provides childcare for teen moms, but Fresno Barrios Unidos says the program is limited to only a couple of high schools. They hope the ACLU report is a wake-up call to local districts.

Coccellato said, "Anything we can do to get the message out there that these are wonderful students."

Kayla Wilson from the Fresno County Office of Education says despite the ACLU's report, there have actually been great strides since 2012. In just the last six months the B3 or Birth through 3 years program has focused specifically on the needs of teenage mothers and is being taught in schools in Fresno.

Wilson said, "We're doing staff development, we're also going to be providing services for Fresno Unified at every single high school campus to make sure that they're getting what they need academically and emotionally."

The Fresno County Office of Education is actually putting on a conference for teen moms next Wednesday at the Double Tree Hotel in Fresno. The conference will offer success stories from speakers, provide information and resources.

The ACLU report calls for more state funding for schools to provide more programs that help teen moms successfully graduate. Nationally, the union says only 30% of teen mothers graduate from high school.

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