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Toddler Only Witness to Murder of Teen Mom

Teen pregnancy

One in four American women who had a baby between June 2007 and June 2008 were living in poverty. The murder of 16-year-old Daniella Cooper in Miami last week reveals much about the challenges and tragedies young, single mothers and their children face daily. (Stock photo).

by Seth Eisenberg

Belinda Luscombe reports for TIME on the recently released Census Bureau data on Fertility of American Women: 2008.

“First, the bad news: 1 in 4 women who had a baby between June 2007 and June 2008 were living in poverty,” Luscombe writes. “Then, the not-so-bad news: of the 1.5 million unmarried mothers who gave birth that year, a quarter were actually cohabiting with a partner, so perhaps they weren’t exactly ‘single’ moms.”

Statistics don’t begin to reveal the stories of America’s children born to single young mothers living in the nation’s inner cities. I’ve met many of those children and their mothers through relationship skills and marriage education classes I’ve taught in South Florida’s schools, hospitals, and supportive housing communities over the past decade.

One of them was Daniella Cooper. Daniella, along with more than 100 others, was in a two-month class I taught at Miami-Dade’s COPE Center for teenage mothers and expectant moms. Her birthday was on Halloween. She turned 16. She wanted to become a pediatrician.

Daniella Cooper

Daniella Cooper

In November 2007, Daniella gave birth to Jeremiah. Like the other youngsters at COPE, Daniella was doing her best to raise her little boy and make it through school. With scarce resources, her parents and the school staff were working hard to help. Daniella was able to bring her son to school with her each day where he was cared for and fed while she focused on her studies.

Last Thursday, five days after Daniella’s sixteenth birthday, little Jeremiah was to celebrate his third. Instead, the toddler stood alone over his mother’s lifeless body for nearly two hours before Daniella’s 12-year-old sister came home. She found Jeremiah, unharmed, sitting in a pool of blood next to his mother.

Reports say Jeremiah was the only witness to Daniella’s murder in their Miami home.

It’s unlikely Daniella’s story or Jeremiah’s will make it to the national news. She was not the daughter of a celebrity. Her father ministers at a local church. Daniella’s death will remain the focus of Miami-Dade Police investigators, grieving classmates, teachers, and family, as this precious teenager who had such great potential to live a happy, fulfilling life becomes another tragic statistic. Given the chance, I know Daniella would have made a great doctor.

Children born to single mothers and the mothers themselves, especially in distressed, poverty stricken communities such as many of those spread across Miami-Dade County, face enormous challenges to their daily survival. Census Bureau statistics don’t begin to capture the struggles of their lives. They are far more likely to become victims of violent crime, drop-out of school, suffer from the consequences of poor mental and physical health, and become part of the endless cycle of poverty and despair that touches millions of American lives every moment of every day. PAIRS Foundation’s work in these communities has shown much promise. Boosting young peoples’ self-worth, self-esteem, emotional understanding, and communication skills, including the ability to say no, sustain healthy relationships, and avoid destruction ones are vital to breaking the cycle.

For Daniella, there will be no good news. For Jeremiah and so many other children and young single mothers living in poverty, their future very much depends on us.

Anyone with information is asked to call Miami-Dade Crime Stoppers, anonymously, at 305-471-8477.

Seth Eisenberg is President of the nonprofit PAIRS Foundation, an industry leader in relationship and marriage education.

Related:

Relationship skills training helps prevent teen pregnancy
Vital resources to reducing teen pregnancy

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November 2010
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