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Health worker uses experience to impact teens

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY -- A worker from CUPHD spends her days helping young moms and she's been busier than usual.
CHAMPAIGN -- A worker from CUPHD spends her days helping young moms and she's been busier than usual. National numbers show teen pregnancy is going down, but that's not the case in Champaign County. WCIA-3's Anna Carrera finds out how the area measures up.

About 7% of births in Champaign County from 2013 were to moms who are 19 years old or younger. That's up from 6% in 2011. But, social workers say the stigma needs to change in order to help the next generation.

"It's going to happen," said Tasha Thompson. "There's going to be teen parents."

Thompson knows because she's a WIC case manager at CU Public Health. Her main job is to make sure new moms have the support and help they need.

"I have seen an increase in teen pregnancy and I've even seen the teen moms be even younger than before," said Thompson.  

Thompson has three children of her own. She says her experiences with them help her relate to young moms.

"I actually gave birth to my oldest son when I was 15 years old," said Thompson. "I was a freshman at Central High School."

That son is now a freshman in college. Thompson says, without him, she's be living a completely different life.

"I was heading down another direction," said Thompson. "Because I had him, I knew that I had to make a change."

Thompson refused to become just another statistic.

"Some even suggested, 'just get a job at Subway and don't worry about going onto college,'" said Thompson. "It was because of him. Every time I would get low or discouraged, I would think about what type of future I wanted him to have."

So, instead of facing a downward spiral, she started looking up.

"I was the first in my family to graduate from college," said Thompson.  

Now she's raising her kids, and the teens she works with, to aspire for the same goals.

"We need to support them, not look down on them," said Thompson, "because what we ultimately have to understand is they're members of our community and we want them to be successful."

Thompson started a group called Goals four years ago. It stands for "Going On Against Life's Struggles." It's made to support teen parents.

For more information about the group, click here.

Even though Champaign County's numbers are higher than average, the state is doing better. Another study by the CDC shows Illinois is one of ten states with the lowest teen pregnancy rates. The highest are southern states like Texas, Mississippi and Arizona. 
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