More teens are having babies in the Central Valley than anywhere else in California. The rates remain high in several Central Valley counties, but those numbers are on the decline.
In this special report, KSEE 24's Raquel Cervantes profiles two local programs that are committed to helping teen moms succeed against all odds.
Judy Sinpraseuth has come a long way as a parent. At 21 years old, she's going to college and subbing at an elementary school, all while parenting an active 4-year-old boy.
Getting pregnant as a teen changed her life.
"It took a big toll on me because I was just like--I was 16. I was young. I didn't know what I was doing. I didn't know what I was supposed to do," Judy says.
Pregnant at 16--Judy says she was in denial.
For some time, she didn't tell her parents or her teachers.
When she finally turned for support, it didn't come from where she needed it the most.
"My dad actually said that he didn't think I was going to graduate. And that hurt me," Judy says.
In California, 70 percent of teen moms drop out of high school.
Judy says she could've easily become another statistic had a teacher not encouraged her to stay in school.
She joined the Parent and Child Education program known as P.A.C.E. in the Fresno Unified School District.
The program offers a daycare while the teen parents attend regular classes and learn about parenting.
"It gives them a safe place to be themselves and to be realistic about the challenges of having a child and being in high school," says Deanna Mathies with the Early Learning Program at Fresno Unified School District.
Without a doubt, being a teen parent comes with a stigma.
Take it from this teen mom: "I've been called so many names, it's crazy. I didn't even know people would be this--so mean," says 15-year-old Jane Carretero.
In the Central Valley, teen birth rates have declined over the years. But the rates remain well above the state average in several Central Valley Counties.
The most recent numbers show that in Fresno County, 46 out of 1,000 teens have had a child. Tulare County tops the list at about 54 out of every 1,000--nearly double the state's average of 28.4.
"Tulare has had a higher teen pregnancy rate than the rest of the state for many years. What is important to me is that this rate is decreasing," says Dr. Karen Haught, Tulare County's health officer.
In Southeast Fresno, a support group for teen parents meets every week.
At the Teen Success program, 15- to 20-year-old moms focus on parenting and achieving educational goals.
The group's mission is to be the voice that tells the teens they can still succeed against all odds.
"I think if I wouldn't have been in Teen Success, I think I probably would've had another baby," says 18-year-old Cecilia Morales.
"I don't think I would've been in school. I think I would've been--dropped out," says Serena Rojas, who was 16 when she was pregnant.
"I wouldn't have nobody. I wouldn't have no support," says 18-year-old Marissa Coronado.
Marissa was only 15 when she became pregnant. Her daughter is now 3.
She says the Teen Success program has emphasized the importance of education.
"It helped me realize in order to read to her, I have to finish school to be a better reader, to read to her," Marissa says. "I want her to be happy. I want her to have an education. I want her to go to college. We talk to her about college."
No one tells them raising a child will be easy. In fact, the reality hits them hard.
"I was there raising my baby. Like from when he was crying at night until the morning," Jane says through tears. "Like no sleep, a couple of days without eating, not being able to shower. I didn't even know about breast feeding until that day."
Sharing their struggles, the girls can relate to one another.
When they see each other succeed, they realize they can do it, too.
"I graduated high school with straight A's--proud, I'm very proud," says 18-year-old Beatriz Garcia.
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