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Time to talk about taboo subject

February 09, 2005

Washington County Health Officer William Christoffel agrees that preaching abstinence to prevent pregnancy is a good thing, but says it's not enough when dealing with students who are already sexually active.

This is an explosive subject because many see any talk of contraception by school officials as an interference in parents' responsibilities and religious beliefs. But all who object must admit that the present approach isn't working very well.

Christoffel is talking about the subject because Washington County's teenage birth rate is among the highest in the state.

It's a problem because women who give birth in their teens are more likely to remain impoverished and their children are more likely to be abused, neglected or end up in foster care.

Once local government has to take responsibility for a child's welfare, local taxpayers start footing the bills.

But members of the Washington County Commissioners say that discussions about birth control should take place at home with parents.

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We agree, but given that the local birth rate for teens ages 15 to 17 topped Maryland's rate in 2003 for the fifth straight year, something more needs to happen.

As a start, we suggest countywide funding for an innovative program called "Teen Voices, Teen Choices."

Devised by the Parent-Child Center, a United Way of Washington County agency dedicated to prevention of child abuse, the program brings teen mothers to school assemblies to tell other teens how tough motherhood is.

If giving students information about contraceptives is unacceptable, let's at least give them a close look at the harsh reality of parenthood.

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