Two years ago, Bakersfield High School students Nigeria Manning and Temia Williams watched as their close friend — a high school junior — unexpectedly became pregnant.
They got a first-hand look at the struggles she faced. Just 16 years old, she didn’t know how to plan for a child. She didn’t know what kinds of supplies she needed to usher an infant into the world. After she turned 18, she got little help from her mother — who also became pregnant as a teenager — and less help from the baby’s father, who has been in and out of jail, Williams and Manning said.
“After her junior year, we didn’t see her anymore,” Williams said. “She always had to go back home to be with the baby.”
The high school student’s pregnancy wasn’t that shocking. There isn’t another county statewide that has a higher teen birth rate than Kern.
But the lack of preparation and knowledge of how to rear a child, Manning and Williams said, opened their eyes to an unaddressed need. So they decided to do something about it, and Monday, they’ll launch a week-long baby supply drive started by teenagers for teenagers.
“Our hope is that other people our own age will see that this is an important issue that affects our classmates,” Williams said. “Few things are more important than caring for our most vulnerable, and these young moms and their little babies need our help.”
They’ve already gotten to work, collecting baby formula, playmats, clothing, baby wipes, burping cloths, pacifiers and a lot of diapers. After March 17, Williams and Manning said they plan to work with a variety of community partners — including First 5 of Kern County, the Bakersfield Police Department, The Dream Center and the Kern High School District — to identify teenage mothers in need.
“We want to meet the people we’re giving these donations to,” Williams said.
They’re calling their project Teens Helping Teens — and they plan to eventually parlay it into a nonprofit that could not only provide donated items to those in need, but also offer educational services to new mothers, Manning said.
It’s a pressing need in Kern County.
Teens in Kern County ages 15 to 17 delivered babies at a rate of 23 per 1,000, and those ages 18 to 19 delivered babies at a rate of 76 per 1,000 in 2013, according to the Lucile Packard Foundation for Children’s Health.
Although teen pregnancy rates in Kern County have dropped by more than 60 percent over two decades, the trend is still roughly twice the state average, according to Kern County Public Health Services Department data.
Public Health officials have been working to address safe sex issues, launching the “Know Your Risk” campaign in 2016 to raise awareness of the county’s record high rates of sexually transmitted diseases among youth while urging adolescents to communicate more with parents and trusted adults about healthy choices about sex.
Williams and Manning agreed that a lack of strong parental support and attention could be a contributing factor to the high pregnancy rates. At least two of their friends have become pregnant as teenagers. Both of their mothers bore them as teenagers.
“I feel like in our community, parents don’t pay attention to their kids and don’t give them the right guidance and they neglect them,” Williams said.
In turn, those girls seek attention from their boyfriends, who they want to keep in their lives, so they have a baby not knowing the challenges that comes with parenthood, Manning said.
“It happens,” Manning said. “It happens a lot.”
But Manning and Williams said they know they can’t prevent that.
“There’s no way we can stop it. They’re going to do what they want to do regardless. It’s not up to us,” Williams said. “We just want to help out.”