New research in Dallas County unravels what teen pregnancy costs a young mom and the community she lives in — from money spent on Medicaid for prenatal care to what it takes to investigate child abuse and neglect.
Aydrelle Collins was 18 when she found out she was pregnant. She says, at the time, it felt like her entire world was coming apart.
"Anxiety and fear, that is an understatement. I had plans. I was in college when I got pregnant," she says.
She was in a relationship with a man in his 30s. When he found out she was pregnant, he left. He hasn't seen their son, Jaiden — now almost 10 — in eight and a half years.
A struggle across the board
In the early days of motherhood, she struggled emotionally, and financially, first applying for WIC vouchers. The Women, Infants and Children program helps pregnant women and new moms buy formula and healthy food. It was a lifeline for her and Jaiden.
"As he got older we eventually got on food stamps, and we used childcare assistance," she says.
Collins says those programs saved her, but she hated relying on them. She would even go to Walmart at midnight so nobody would see her using her WIC vouchers.
"Especially being a black woman, that is a stereotype in our community — that we just lay up and have babies, and we are on welfare. And so that was really hard for me," she says. "I think that was the hardest part."
Which may explain why Collins pushed herself so hard. She finished college and got a master's degree in counseling. Now, she works as a mental health case manager. Before that, she was an educator with a local nonprofit called NTARUPT. That's the North Texas Alliance To Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens, one of several dozen prevention programs in the U.S. that just had its federal funding cut.
How teen pregnancy ripples through a community
CEO Terry Goltz Greenberg says NTARUPT is trying to show people that teen pregnancy affects everyone — not just the moms and their families.
"If you're living, say, in Addison you might say 'Well, the teen birth rate in Addison isn't high, and it's the problem of those kids in some neighborhoods in Dallas that have five times the national teen birth rate; it's particularly their problem.' And for those people that don't believe that it's their problem, we wanted to show them that they're actually paying for that," she says.
The nonprofit teamed up with UT Southwestern to do that research. The first thing they looked at was what it costs to provide WIC vouchers, SNAP benefits and Medicaid for teen moms in Dallas County.
The cost for one year is $22 million. Anita Vasudevan is the medical student who dug into the numbers.
"Medicaid was the biggest cost that we found. And particularly Medicaid childbirth costs. Because most of the cost of childbirth for a girl in that age group, in the 15-19 age group, which is what I looked at, most of those costs are covered under Medicaid," she says.
Vasudevan also explored costs for children of teen mothers. They're more likely than kids born to older parents to spend time behind bars, live in foster care or be abused or neglected. Incarceration and Department of Family And Protective Services programs costs Dallas County close to $40 million a year, and that's just for kids of teen moms.
Lowing tax dollars
Vasudevan also figured out how teen pregnancy leads to less tax revenue; $41 million to be exact.
"Teen mothers are in lower income groups often," she says. "And because of that they're paying fewer tax dollars and they're also buying into the economy less."
So teen mothers make less and cost more. NTARUPT CEO Terry Goltz Greenberg says, in other words:
"It's a tough road for a teen with a child."
Aydrelle Collins agrees. Her road was long and lonely, but things change.
"You couldn't tell me that the world wasn't over when I found out that I was pregnant. But it does get better. And thanks to all of the help I received, I was able to accomplish what I wanted to accomplish," she says. "Before I was 30."
Which means she and her sweet, smart almost-fifth-grader have a lot more road ahead of them, and the path looks pretty clear.