Wilson County DSS honored for teen parent program

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The National Association of Counties recognized the Wilson County Department of Social Services with an Achievement Award at its annual conference recently, naming the county’s Baby Steps program as best in category among all achievement winners in the human services category.

Baby Steps, funded through a grant from the N.C. Division of Public Health, works with teenage parents and provides case management and support services to help ensure teens are able to navigate becoming a nurturing parent while working toward their high school graduation.

“We are thrilled to receive this recognition from NACo,” said DSS Director Glenn Osborne. “This is the first time our agency has received the best in category recognition, as the top best practice award winner among the several outstanding recipients in the human services category across the nation. We are pleased that our Baby Steps program is being recognized for the outstanding services being provided in our community.”

Research has shown only 30 to 40 percent of high school girls who become pregnant stay in school and graduate, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Data from the N.C. Division of Public Health for 2017 shows that 100 percent of Baby Steps participants delayed a subsequent pregnancy, 87.5 percent stayed in school and/or graduated, 100 percent of their children have established medical homes and 95 percent of teen parents are demonstrating positive parenting techniques.

“Through this program, we are addressing Wilson County’s graduation rate and strengthening the parenting ability of the teens receiving services,” said Don Hicks, adult and family services program manager. “Providing opportunities for teen parents to have an understanding of early childhood development is a key component of our work. By focusing on academic success and providing varied learning opportunities, we are addressing a cycle of poverty that many families experience.”

Baby Steps was designed in 2014 to address concerns regarding the combination of the county’s rates of high school graduation and teen pregnancy. From serving teens through its child care subsidy program, Wilson County DSS staff found that more was needed than child care to ensure that a teen parent successfully completed high school and graduated. Staff focused on education as a core component of breaking the cycle of intergenerational poverty.

Through Baby Steps, participants develop parenting skills, increase understanding of child development and establish a support network. Staff are able to ensure that young children participating in Baby Steps have an established medical home and are up to date on their immunizations.

The National Association of Counties awards honor innovative, effective county government programs that strengthen services for residents. Nationally, awards are given in 18 categories that reflect the vast services counties provide. The categories include children and youth, criminal justice, county administration, information technology, health and civic engagement, among others.