TEEN PREGNANCY: Federal, state and community numbers show promise

TEEN-Pregnancy-012214-logoCHICKASAW COUNTY – Nationally the number of teen pregnancies reported each year is falling but Mississippi and Chickasaw County are still above the national average in births to girls ages 15 to 19.
The factors driving the drop in teen pregnancy on the national level are mixed and local professionals said Chickasaw County numbers also appear to be influenced by a variety of factors.
“They are teenagers and they don’t think ahead and they don’t always make good decisions,” said Okolona High School Counselor Zettie Johnson. “Like I said, they are teenagers, who knows what they are thinking about today.
“If we could put our finger on just one factor causing teen pregnancy, I think we would have solved this problem years ago,” said Johnson, a school counselor for the past 20 years. “It’s a very personal and private subject. It’s not an easy one to discuss. It’s not an easy one to solve.”
While the number of births to single teen mothers is not broken down by community, Chickasaw County numbers have been cut almost in half from a high of 67 in 2007, to 29 for 2011 – the last year for complete numbers.
And the drop in the number of teen pregnancies has been mirrored by a drop in infant mortality. Infant mortality in Chickasaw County went from 13-percent in 2006 to 4.4-percent in 2011.
“This is the second year for us to offer Abstinence-Plus at our schools,” said Houlka School Nurse Chandra Warren. “While I can’t give you exact numbers, I do believe our numbers are down.”
Houston High School Counselor Susan Allen said she believes Houston’s numbers are steady.
“The data I see shows those numbers being consistent with the numbers in the Black and Hispanic communities that are falling,” said Allen. “Where we are seeing the increase is in the number of girls in our school (who are pregnant) who are White.”
Johnson said she believes Okolona’s numbers fluctuate for a lot of reasons from year to year but she does feel the number of pregnant girls walking the halls of Okolona High School is down.
Warren, Allen and Johnson said, while the overall numbers are falling, the number of lives being touched by teen pregnancy is still too high.
“My heart goes out to these girls when they come into my office and cry,” said Allen. “I talk to them and explain they need to talk to someone they trust – hopefully their parents, but maybe a pastor or a neighbor or another family member – about this.”
Under Mississippi law anyone who coerces a pregnant girl to have an abortion can be charged with a crime.
Warren, Allen and Johnson each said they also tell the teen to go to their family doctor or the Chickasaw County Health Department for prenatal care. They added they have reams of information on pregnancy, health care options and how to prepare for a newborn.
Warren, Allen and Johnson also pointed to two factors that do influence when and if a young lady might get pregnant:
• Parent involvement – Each said girls and boys who have a strong father figure and a mother they can talk to, tend not to get pregnant and do better with the pregnancy and raising the child if they do.
• Sex education – Each said boys and girls who have the knowledge of what causes pregnancy, ways to prevent it, and/or reasons to abstain, tend to not get pregnant.
Okolona schools teach abstinence only, while Houston and Houlka schools teach the state approved Abstinence-Plus, where forms of birth control are discussed.
Dr. David Wiley, a professor with the Dept. of Health and Human Performance at Texas State University, points out the U.S. teen pregnancy rate is more than six times that of the Netherlands, four times that of Germany and three times that of France.
“For decades, sexuality education policies and practices in the U.S. have been a mixture of science, morality, politics and the personal opinion of key decision makers,” said Wiley, in an article he published in the 2012 American Journal of Preventive Medicine. “Far too often, science has fared dismally when policy, practice and curriculum decisions were made in state legislatures and local school boards meetings.”
Wiley goes on to say from 1914 to the 1970s what he calls the “scare ‘em” approach of threatening youth with venereal disease and the hurdles faced by teen-mothers was all that was offered.
The 1996 Welfare Reform Act provided funds for “abstinence-only until marriage” sex education. The 2010 Personal Responsibility Education Program provided the first funding for programs that teach about abstinence and contraception (Abstinence-Plus) for the prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases.
“This new funding stream signals a clear shift in strategy at the federal level away from ideological to science-based solutions to teen pregnancy prevention,” said Wiley.
The CDC says about 44-percent of girls and 27-percent of boys have spoken with their parents about both abstinence and birth control. That same report says 65-percent of girls and 53-percent of boys said they received formal sex education about both abstinence and birth control.
The Mississippi Department of Human Services lists more than two dozen resource centers that provide education on teen pregnancy.
Abstinence-Plus is taught at every age level from sixth grade to 12th grade as part of health, biology or science classes. The students are separated by gender and the course spans six-weeks.
Most parents (80-percent) feel sex education should to be taught in school – not to their child – but because they fear most parents don’t talk to their kids about sex until it is too late.

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