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Teen pregnancy rate remains flat

July 24, 2007|By ERIN CUNNINGHAM

WASHINGTON COUNTY - A report released recently shows that the teen birth rate nationwide is declining.

However, teenagers in Washington County continue to give birth at a high rate.

In the county, 46.4 of every 1,000 15- to 19-year-old females gave birth in 2005, according to state data. That number is down from the 48.6 births per 1,000 females in that age group in 2004, but higher than the 44.1 births per 1,000 15- to 19-year-olds in 2003.

Washington County continues to have the fourth-highest teen birth rate in Maryland, behind Baltimore City, and Caroline and Dorchester counties on the Eastern Shore.

"We're trying to lower it," Washington County Health Department Clinical Specialist Dr. Ronald Keyser said of the county's teen birth rate. "We're trying to figure this out and do something about it."

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The most current teen birth data from the Maryland Vital Statistics Administration is from 2005. Data from that year shows that 31.8 per 1,000 15- to 19-year-old girls statewide gave birth.

Keyser said the county's teen birth rate has been as high as 59.5 per 1,000 teens in 1997.

"(The teen birth rate) has gone down nationally, but Washington County has stayed flat," he said.

In 2005, 47 percent of high school students nationwide - 4.6 million - reported having had sexual intercourse, down from 54 percent in 1991.

Of those who had sex during a three-month period in 2005, 63 percent - more than 6 million - reported using condoms. That's up from 46 percent in 1991, according to nationwide data.

In 2005, three girls younger than 15 gave birth in Washington County, and 76 15- to 17-year-olds gave birth, according to state data. That same year, 117 18- and 19-year-olds gave birth.

Washington County ranks second statewide in the rate of births to white teenage mothers, with 45.4 births for every 1,000 white teens, according to state data.

Keyser described working to lower the county's teen birth rate as a "long-term" process. He said several initiatives, including the Washington County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition, are focused on reducing those numbers.

"The most important factor is the interaction of parents with their child," he said.

The coalition launched a parent tool kit earlier this year, which is a folder with brochures and information sheets with tips to help parents talk to their children about sex and sex-related issues. Information about community resources available to teens also is included.

Coalition Director Carrol Lourie said the organization focuses on an "abstinence plus" curriculum.

"This essentially says we believe abstinence should be your first and best choice, however, you need the facts in order to make a good decision ... a healthy decision," she said.

Lourie said the coalition will begin faith-based training on the topic in September for local churches. A group of evangelical pastors also will be giving sermons in October about sexuality and the role the church plays in children's lives.

Lourie said that parents should understand that their children want to talk with them about their values and the impact their sexual decisions can have on their lives.

"Children pay attention to what their parents say," she said. "We have some resources for parents because we know it's a tough conversation. It's not a one-time conversation. It's a conversation that goes on throughout the child's life. They can hear more the older they get."

Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition partners include Washington County Public Schools, the Washington County Health Department, Girls Inc. of Washington County, Hagerstown Community College and The Herald-Mail Co.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.




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For information and resources from the Washington County Teen Pregnancy Prevention Coalition, call Carrol Lourie at 240-818-7555, or e-mail her at clourie@myactv.net.

Information about free services for teens at the Washington County Health Department is available online at www.washhealth.org or by calling 240-313-3296.

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