|County leads Florida in teen births|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Joel Addington|
|Wednesday, 14 December 2011 13:24|
Baker County had the highest teen birth rate in the region and the state in 2010, but last week the Northeast Florida Teen Pregnancy Task Force released a plan for bringing the rate down.
Sixty-three teenagers here gave birth last year, which accounted for 18 percent of all the births in Baker County, statistics from the Florida Department of Health show. That led to a teen birth rate of 78.5 — the highest in Florida.
The teen birth rate represents the number of births to females ages 15 to 19 per 1000 females of that age group. The teen birth rate statewide in 2010 was 32.8 per 1000.
Regionally and in Duval County, teens accounted for 9.5 percent of all births, according to Preventing Teen Pregnancy in Northeast Florida, A Plan for Community Action from the task force, which counts among its 15 members two local health officials — Healthy Start program coordinator Sue Murphy and the school district’s Marcheta Crews.
Teen births in St. Johns County were 6.6 percent of all births, in Nassau County they were 12.6 percent and in Clay County 9.6 percent, the plan states.
“We need a change in the culture so that it’s not taboo to talk about sex, so it’s not taboo to talk about prevention,” said county health department director Kerry Dunlavey at the December 7 press conference in Jacksonville to unveil the action plan. “We need to have that message that it’s an easy conversation, not a difficult one that we should shy away from.”
The plan is the result of a year-long, regional effort to study teen pregnancy by soliciting input from public and private healthcare professionals, school districts, organizations that focus on teen and child health, and teens themselves, including a group from Sanderson last fall.
And while statistics show the teen birth rate has been dropping in the last two decades, that doesn’t necessarily mean fewer teens are getting pregnant, the plan points out.
Estimates from the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion trends nationally and by state, indicate about 45 percent of all teen pregnancies in Florida result in miscarriages or abortions and births make up the remainder, the plan’s introduction states. Using the institute’s estimates, the task force surmised that the teen pregnancy rate in Northeast Florida to be 66.3 per 1ooo females age 15 to 19.
The task force hopes to reduce the region’s teen birth rate with specific strategies aimed at preventing teen pregnancy and detailed in the plan, including engaging parents, improving access to adolescent healthcare, curbing repeat teen pregnancy using in-home mentors and support groups for pregnant teens, implementing community-based teen pregnancy prevention programs to augment existing school-based programs, and advocating for changes in state law that prohibit lessons on contraception in public schools.
“At least we’ve moved the conversation on the need to the change the state statute that pretty much mandates abstinence-only sex education,” said Joy Burgess of the Chamberlain College of Nursing in Jacksonville and co-chair of the task force.
Because families play such a large part in teens’ lives, making sure parents are prepared to discuss sex and other health issues with their teens is just as important, task force members stressed.
“Even though [sex] is all around us, it’s hard for us to talk about,” said Carol Brady, executive director of the Northeast Florida Healthy Start Coalition, which convened and supported the task force. “That’s something that local agencies could really get involved in with parents.”
Ms. Brady pointed to a program developed by the Duval County Cooperative Extension office — Teening Up — as one resource available for parents today.
“It’s definitely under-utilized,” she said. “We have to figure out a way to disseminate that better.”
Another strategy outlined in the 48-page plan, one that task force members believe is more suited to Baker County, is the use of comprehensive sex education curriculum designed specifically for churches and other faith-based organizations in the community.
A staffer at the Nassau County Health Department has been trained in the program and may be willing to train others in the region, Ms. Brady said. The plan calls for similar efforts at Jacksonville Housing Authority apartment complexes as part of a community-based approach to preventing teen pregnancy.
“This has really brought forward an issue that’s in Northeast Florida, but really in the rural communities,” said Ms. Dunlavey while thanking the task force and Healthy Start for its efforts and involvement in Baker County.
|Last Updated on Friday, 16 December 2011 08:58|