IMG 1717Image: Ashley Vejar and son Angel. Photo courtesy of the subject
 
 
 “It just chokes me up every single time,” says Kemberly Mahiri, the supervisor for Sonoma County’s Teen Parent Connections Program. She’s showing me one of the hundreds of thank you cards she and other counselors for the program have received from the teen parents they serve.

The program currently has a caseload of 115 teenagers and 93 other children. In addition to providing free counseling and home visits, the program is aimed at reducing repeat pregnancies and increasing graduation rates. According to the County’s data, it’s working. During the 2016-2017 fiscal year, 72 percent of teenagers in the program were either enrolled in school or had graduated. 80 percent of teenagers who were not already pregnant reported using contraception.  

21-year-old Ashley Vejar aged out of the program when she turned 19 but remembers how crucial it was for her. “I was fourteen when I found out I was pregnant,” Vejar said. “When I found out it was a boy, I got a call a week later telling me that they were having issues finding my son’s hand.” 

Vejar’s baby was born with what’s called Gastroschisis, where the intestines extend outside of the body. The survival rate is high, at over 90%, but children are medically fragile. Her six-year-old son, Angel, receives nutrition intravenously and has had to use a colostomy bag.

“I can tell you that the Teen Parent Connections has helped me because I have felt so hopeless, not being able to work, not being able to go to school. I’d stay home all day and take care of my kid, and you feel helpless, hopeless, like a nobody because you are not doing anything,” Vejar said. “My social worker would never fail to remind me that I was doing everything I could for my son and I had to take care of him and that it was never too late to go back to school.”

TPC connections Data sourced from the Sonoma County Department of Health Services. Graphic by Isabella Bloom.The program also focuses on helping teenage parents escape patterns of abuse by teaching them coping skills. More than half of the teenagers in the program lack parental support. In addition, 20 percent of referrals have reported domestic violence and 23 percent are struggling with mental health conditions.

Vejar said she had a traumatic childhood. “In order to be the best mom, I have to be the best me that I can be and that takes counseling.”

This program is now on the chopping block. Due in part to the October 2017 wildfires, Sonoma County had to make cuts across nearly all departments this year. The Health Services Department took the biggest hit. 

Even before the fires, the Health Department was operating in the red and attempts to scale back the Teen Parent Connections program has drawn criticism in the past.

Chair of the County Board of Supervisors, David Rabbit, said there wasn’t enough revenue to make up that deficit this year.  This was also the first year the state did not backfill - or make up for - the county’s property tax loss from the homes destroyed in the fire. 

“This year’s backfill to the County’s general fund would have totaled about 5.8 million,” Rabbit said. “That could have solved, obviously, a big chunk of that. We weren’t able to achieve that this year.” 

If the cuts take effect as planned, Teen Parent Connections will lose all but two full-time employees, and the number of teens they serve would decrease dramatically. Program director Kemberly Mahiri says most of her staff have been told to expect pink slips in mid-September. 

In the meantime, County Health Officer Celeste Philip says they are looking at other possibilities for funding these services.

“Part of what we are looking at is whether or not there are other partners who could provide some of these same services. There is the possibility that even if these reductions did go forward that we could fund the care coordination and services differently.”

For now, the program’s future is unclear, and that worries parents like Ashley Vejar. 

“It is a crisis if we take this away. We’d be setting up a lot of people for failure.”
 
 
This story was supported by a grant from the USC Annenberg Center for Health Journalism’s 2019 California Fellowship.

Fire Recovery & Youth Health

  • IMG 1794
    September 17, 2019

    Educators Work To Prevent Chronic Absenteeism After Fires

    Driving to Paradise, you will pass a memorial for the 86 people who died in the Camp Fire. The crosses sit on a small knoll off Skyway, the four-lane road between Paradise and Chico. Almost everyone in town used this road to evacuate last November. The students in Paradise Unified School District,…
  • IMG 1790
    September 16, 2019

    Paradise Elementary Counselors Support Students Through Loss

    Clinical social worker Laura Besser points to a mural outside the administration office at the new Paradise Elementary School. Two elementary schools in Paradise were destroyed in the Camp Fire and the students were relocated to this campus, which used to be the middle school. In the center of the…
  • Kids writing
    September 14, 2019

    Educators Use Poetry to Help Kids Talk About Trauma

    Kids at Schaefer Elementary write their poems. Credit: Margo Perin. Third grade teacher, Tracy Henry, points to an American flag hanging in her classroom at Schaefer Elementary. The flag is melted along the edges, it shows just how hot the classroom got when the Tubbs fire swept through Santa Rosa…
  • IMG 1790
    September 13, 2019

    Fire Recovery & Youth Health

    A mural at the new Paradise Elementary School in memory of the school that burned in the Camp Fire. Credit: Adia White.On the night of October 8, 2017, wildfires swept through the North Bay. The Tubbs, Nuns and Pocket fires destroyed more than three thousand homes, leveling neighborhoods and…
  • IMG 1653
    September 03, 2019

    Housing Insecurity Is Taking a Toll on Youth’s Health

    Miranda Hernandez and her mom, Adelina, stand inside their new home. Credit: Adia White Standing in the Fountaingrove neighborhood, you can see the scar of the Tubb’s fire stretch across the hillside. Two years later, the trees are still charred and the sounds of reconstruction are constant. Among…
  • June 07, 2019

    Against All Odds, Paradise Students Graduate on Home Campus

    Around two hundred graduates walked across the Paradise High football field on Thursday night. They were all smiles and laughter, proving that the Camp Fire couldn’t take this long-awaited moment away. KRCB’s Adia White has the story. (Image: Senior Sofia Dibenedetto lines up for graduation.…

Science & Health News

  • IMG 1653
    September 03, 2019

    Housing Insecurity Is Taking a Toll on Youth’s Health

    Miranda Hernandez and her mom, Adelina, stand inside their new home. Credit: Adia White Standing in the Fountaingrove neighborhood, you can see the scar of the Tubb’s fire stretch across the hillside. Two years later, the trees are still charred and the sounds of reconstruction are constant. Among…
  • SMART train
    August 01, 2019

    Officials Address Safety Along SMART Train Corridor

    Five people have been killed by the SMART train since June, three are believed to have died by suicide. County leaders are now looking for ways to improve safety for a complicated problem. Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane has served on the SMART train board for ten years. KRCB’s Adia White…
  • prison jail barbed wire barbwire metal lockup cage 929009
    July 30, 2019

    Grand Jury Commends Sonoma County Jail Mental Health Program

    In Sonoma County, as elsewhere, jails increasingly serve as mental health facilities. In its yearly report, the Sonoma County Grand Jury commended a county jail program that has gained national attention for positive effects on prisoners’ mental health. Sonoma West Editor Laura Hagar Rush spoke…
  • sofsfullpic
    June 29, 2019

    Summer of Space!

    NorCal Public Media brings you the universe with SUMMER OF SPACE, a multiplatform experience that includes a month full of science and history programs, all commemorating America’s journey into space. Check out norcalpublicmedia.org as well as our Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages for exciting…
  • IMG 1048
    June 29, 2019

    Teenage Vaping on the Rise in Sonoma County

    In 2018 the U.S. surgeon general declared teenage vaping a national epidemic. Local publisher Sonoma West published an investigation into the growing problem here in the North Bay. KRCB news partnered with Sonoma West to host a panel discussion at Analy High on May 22nd, to share some of that…
  • opioid pills
    June 05, 2019

    Opioid Maker Insys Admits To Bribing Doctors, Agrees To Pay $225 Million Settlement

    GABRIELLE EMANUEL NPR Article Therapeutics, an opioid manufacturer, has agreed to pay $225 million to settle the federal government's criminal and civil investigations into the company's marketing practices. As part of the settlement, Insys Therapeutics admitted to bribing doctors to prescribe…
  • Shirlee Zane Peter Kingston
    May 07, 2019

    Kaiser CEO Tyson Meets with Families on Mental Health

    In late April, Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane traveled to Kaiser Permanente headquarters in Oakland. She was there with a group of family…
  • opioid pills
    May 03, 2019

    Opioid Epidemic in the Bay Area

    The opioid epidemic is devastating communities throughout the country. Northern California Public Media partners with regional public health agenies…
  • Philip
    Apr 30, 2019

    New Health Officer Tackles Measles and Other Top Concerns

    Sonoma County has a new Health Officer, responsible for overseeing the Department of Health Services. Dr. Celeste Philip started the job on April 9th…
  • backlit crime dark 143580
    Apr 24, 2019

    San Mateo County Jail Struggles With A New Role For Opioid Detox

    Eric Westervelt NPR News(Redwood City, California) Felipe Chavez, who's doing time at the San Mateo jail for selling fentanyl, is taking part in the…
  • elizabeth morgan brown
    Apr 17, 2019

    Family Turns Grief to Activism After Daughter's Suicide

    Editor's Note: On April 25, Kaiser CEO Bernard Tyson met with the Brown family and Shirlee Zane, and with several others seeking improvements in…
  • apple gadget google 38286
    Mar 19, 2019

    San Jose says NO to incentives

    LISTEN TO THIS STORY ON NPR Jasmine Garsd February 15, 2019 3:25 PM ET A mayor from another city that tried to land big tech companies might be…
  • LAC sunday
    Mar 05, 2019

    Sonoma County Emergency Manager Speaks on Flood Recovery

    Although the Russian River has receded below flood stage, those affected are still struggling to get their lives back in order. At a community…
  • flood debris
    Mar 04, 2019

    Sonoma County Residents Search for Flood Recovery Assistance

    1,900 homes and 578 businesses were damaged by the Russian River flooding and record rainfall last week. Sonoma County officials estimate the total…
  • russian river
    Mar 01, 2019

    Russian River Flood Recovery Resource Page

    Russian River. Courtesy of Sonoma County Sherriff's Office. DAMAGE ASSESSMENTS: While crews are working to open roads, County staff have also started…
  • Schwedhelm
    Jan 29, 2019

    Santa Rosa Mayor Talks About his Priorities for 2019

    Santa Rosa’s new mayor is beginning his first year in office. Tom Schwedhelm is Santa Rosa’s former police chief and was voted into office by his…
  • Essick sworn in
    Jan 08, 2019

    New Sonoma County Sheriff Hopes to Improve Community Relations

    Mark Essick took his oath as Sonoma County Sheriff on Monday. Around 250 people attended the ceremony. The 49-year-old is replacing former Sheriff…
  • coffey strong askew 0
    Dec 10, 2018

    Coffey Strong Heads to Butte County to Share Advice

    Representatives from the neighborhood group Coffey Strong will travel to Butte County this week to offer recovery advice to survivors of the…

NorCal News

  • laguna high
    September 19, 2019

    West Sonoma County Teachers May Strike Over Salaries

    The West Sonoma County Teachers Association is currently in negotiations with the West Sonoma County Union High School District over teachers’ salaries. KRCB’s Isabella Bloom talked with Brian Miller, a math teacher at Analy High School and the chair of the teachers’ union bargaining team. She…
  • Martin Zuniga Mural
    September 18, 2019

    Roseland Mural Welcomed into the Community

    Martín Zúñiga created a vibrant mural this summer with about a dozen young women from the Santa Rosa community. It's at Roseland Elementary: A Leadership Academy, and it represents the movement of the young people there toward education and giving back. We talk with the artist and Michelle Leisen,…
  • IMG 1794
    September 17, 2019

    Educators Work To Prevent Chronic Absenteeism After Fires

    Driving to Paradise, you will pass a memorial for the 86 people who died in the Camp Fire. The crosses sit on a small knoll off Skyway, the four-lane road between Paradise and Chico. Almost everyone in town used this road to evacuate last November. The students in Paradise Unified School District,…
  • IMG 1790
    September 16, 2019

    Paradise Elementary Counselors Support Students Through Loss

    Clinical social worker Laura Besser points to a mural outside the administration office at the new Paradise Elementary School. Two elementary schools in Paradise were destroyed in the Camp Fire and the students were relocated to this campus, which used to be the middle school. In the center of the…
  • Kids writing
    Sep 14, 2019

    Educators Use Poetry to Help Kids Talk About Trauma

    Kids at Schaefer Elementary write their poems. Credit: Margo Perin. Third grade teacher, Tracy Henry, points to an American flag hanging in her…
  • Hopkins
    Sep 09, 2019

    Sonoma County Leaders Discuss Sexism in Politics During Panel

    Supervisor Lynda Hopkins is tired of being asked: “how can you do your job with kids.” She talked about why this question is problematic during a…
  • IMG 1777
    Sep 06, 2019

    Study Shows Climate Change Could Threaten Oyster Habitat

    Research from the University of California at Davis published last month shows that climate change could dramatically shrink oyster habitat. KRCB’s…
  • The Terrorist Hunter 2
    Sep 06, 2019

    Director Ann Shin Examines Intelligence Industry in New Film

    September 7th on KRCB TV 22, we are premiering Reveal TV, from The Center for Investigative Reporting. The first documentary episode tells the story…
  • irwin keller jpg
    Sep 03, 2019

    Local Jewish Leader Questions Trump's 'Disloyalty' Claim

    In late August, President Donald Trump said this to American Jews: “If you want to vote Democrat, you are being very disloyal to Jewish people and…
  • IMG 1653
    Sep 03, 2019

    Housing Insecurity Is Taking a Toll on Youth’s Health

    Miranda Hernandez and her mom, Adelina, stand inside their new home. Credit: Adia White Standing in the Fountaingrove neighborhood, you can see the…
  • Cannabis grow
    Aug 29, 2019

    Three Years In, Legal Cannabis Still Causing Fights

    California voters approved the adult use of cannabis in 2016. But pot remains subject to a crazy quilt of local ordinances and rules. Supervisor…
  • Pepperwood preserve
    Aug 29, 2019

    Controlled Burns Could Help Prevent California's Megafires

    Over the past two years, California has been devastated by the worst wildfires in its history. As those fires continue to grow in frequency and…
  • IMG 1626
    Aug 27, 2019

    Rainer Navarro Becomes New Police Chief of Santa Rosa

    On August 1st, Captain Rainer Navarro started his new role as chief of the Santa Rosa Police Department. Navarro replaced former Chief Robert…

Northern California
Public Media Newsletter

Get the latest updates on programs and events.