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Pregnancy prevention needs assessment to be presented Dec. 6

November 28, 2005|by TIFFANY ARNOLD

tiffanya@herald-mail.com

A community-based task force will present the results of the Washington County, Maryland Teen Pregnancy Prevention Needs Assessment to the Washington County Board of Education on Dec. 6.

The Washington County Community Partnership for Children and Families, known as WCCP, released the results of the needs assessment in October. The report was an attempt to explain the county's high teenage pregnancy rate.

Washington County had the fourth highest teenage pregnancy in the state in 2003, according to the most recent statistics from the Washington County Health Department.

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"Everyone's aware it's an issue, but there's a communication gap," said Dale Bannon, chairman of the WCCP task force. "It's one thing to be aware. It's another thing to do something about it."

WCCP presented the study to the Washington County Commissioners last month. The community group is launching a months-long media campaign and speakers series to raise awareness about teenage pregnancy in Washington County.

The report surveyed 288 teens and 151 parents on their attitudes toward teenage sex. The report also surveyed local service providers, which included health care providers, social agencies and churches, said Bannon, who also is the executive director of the United Way of Washington County.

Melissa Nearchos, senior project manager for WCCP, said she was surprised at the low response from service providers. Of the 281 surveys distributed to service providers, 27 responded.

"A lot of youth services providers weren't responsive to this issue," she said. "We're trying to bring new people into the fold, but it looks like we might have to keep knocking on their doors."

Networking, an essential part of the WCCP's strategy to reduce teen births, could prove challenging since traditionally there has been resistance to teen pregnancy prevention programming, Nearchos said.

The Washington County Health Department's Family Planning Clinic offers classes and contraceptives to teenage girls. Teens do not need their parents' permission to receive exams or birth control. Parents cannot access their children's records because they are kept confidential, said Tammi Spangler, the clinic's head clinician.

"I think we're the best-kept secret in Hagerstown," Spangler said. "We're very underused."

Jill Campbell-Palmer, program director of the Parent-Child Center, said limited resources have kept the nonprofit agency from including more prevention programs and assistance for pregnant moms. She said parents offered the most resistance to their programs.

"If it's the first child, the family will try to keep it to themselves," she said. "Families are leery of having someone come in the home, especially when the teen is still in the care of a family member."

In addition to the lack of community support, the report said the biggest barriers to teen pregnancy prevention in Washington County were the county's culture of conservatism, tension between the Washington County Board of Education and the Washington County Health Department and miscommunication among teenagers and parents.

"We are looking for a broad-base partnership from the community because we believe we can't do this alone," Bannon said. "Everybody is part of the solution."

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