An alarm goes off and Brittney stirs. It is 4:30 A.M. and after only a few hours of sleep Brittney is awakening to prepare herself and her son for the cold Rochester air and the almost three hour odyssey they make each morning to the babysitter’s home and then to school. In January 2014, three months after her sixteenth birthday, Brittney learned she was pregnant. More than a year later, now seventeen and with an 8 month old son, Brittney works tirelessly each day to balance school, motherhood, and her complex relationship with her son’s father. Her room is a mix of her childhood and her son’s; cheerleading trophies and stuffed animals line dusty shelves at the far end. Her son has an entire dresser filled with his clothes, diapers, etc. not to mention his crib and various toys and rockers strewn about the room. Photographs, trinkets, and half-empty bottles of sports drinks line every flat surface. On the wall above Brittney’s bed brightly colored vinyl letters spell his name and on her vanity a matted print displays her name in block letters. She has free reign of the basement, which used to be her father’s bedroom. The only part of him that remains is a Tupac Shakur poster hanging on the wall next to her bed, tacks pushed forcefully into the corners by her father many years ago now. Brittney doesn’t even really care for Tupac but the tacks are too difficult to remove.
Brittney is just one of many young women affected by the high rates of teenage pregnancy and birth in Rochester, NY despite a more than 50% decline since the peak year of 1990. Reporting the highest rates of teen pregnancy and birth in the state outside of New York City, Rochester saw 561 children born to teenage mothers in 2010 (the latest year for statistics). Now four years on, those children will fill 25 kindergarten classrooms come fall 2015. Rochester knows many struggles, though. Besides being the fifth poorest city in the United States, Rochester also has the lowest graduation rate in the state at 43%, the highest rate of minor sex trafficking in the state outside of New York City, and an infant mortality rate on par with countries like Jamaica and Albania.
Only 38% of girls who have a child before the age of 18 earn a high school diploma nationally. High school dropouts tend to rely more on public assistance, are more likely to be incarcerated, and will, on average, earn $260,000 less over their lifetimes than their graduated counterparts. The children of teen parents are more likely to experience abuse as a child, drop out of high school, be incarcerated, and become teen parents themselves. However as funding dwindles for programs that aid teen parents in navigating the social service system and the incredible responsibility of parenthood, something parents of all ages struggle with, the future of many of Rochester’s children remains uncertain.
With her son as her driving motivation, Brittney is setting out realistic goals for herself; the most important of which is to graduate from high school.