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Report: 34 Washington County Public Schools students are pregnant

If trend continues, the county could end up with nearly 100 teenage pregnancies this year

January 15, 2013|By DAVE McMILLION | davem@herald-mail.com

In a report that left two Washington County Board of Education members feeling “shocked” and “depressed,” a team of local health care providers and other officials told the board Tuesday afternoon that there have been 34 teenage pregnancies this school year and that in some cases children in the community are becoming sexually active as young as 8 years old.

There were 44 teenage pregnancies last school year, and if this school year’s trend continues, the county could end up with nearly 100 teenage pregnancies this year, the team told the board.

Some of the experts attributed the problem to teenagers who are left alone at home for long periods of time and teens growing up in homes where there is no conversation about responsible sexual behavior.

“Something is happening in our community and we have to take action now,” said Shalom Black Lane, director of Teens Have Choices.

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Officials from other organizations such as the Family Center and the Community Free Clinic of Washington County said they have programs to deal with teenage pregnancy but board members and officials from the organizations talked about the need for more long- and short-term efforts to curb teenage pregnancy.

Robin E. Roberson, director of the Community Free Clinic, talked about children in the community being “very sexually active” and that some of them are as young as 8 years old. Black Lane said the average age that teenagers becoming sexually active is 13 1/2. In 2005, the age was 15, Black Lane said.

Roberson emphasized the need to get more information out in schools about resources that can help teens avoid pregnancy.

Roberson said there is a situation at one of the high schools where a group of girls are trying to get pregnant so they can raise babies together.

“They are all on a mission to get pregnant,” said Roberson, adding that the girls have “multiple partners.”

Roberson said many of the pregnant teens come from single parent homes where the children are being left alone for a long period of time with no supervision.

“So they are looking to other things for entertainment,” Roberson said.

In other homes, teenagers report having no conversation with their parents about responsible sexual behavior. Teenagers are also having sex early because they are looking for affection, Roberson said. They also having babies so someone will love them, Roberson said.

“It’s very sad,” Roberson said.

Joseph P. Ross, president and chief executive officer of Meritus Health and part of the team giving the report, said he believed it is important to engage teenagers more in discussion about responsible sexual behavior. Ross said he also believes it is important for school nurses in the county’s high schools to dispense condoms to students if they ask for them.

Ross said 404 students were surveyed and 79 percent believe that condoms should be made available to them.

“This is something on the minds of kids,” Ross said.

Board of Education member Donna Brightman said she was feeling “depressed” over the teenage pregnancy report and wanted to know why the school culture “seems to be going backwards.”

Brightman asked Superintendent of Schools Clayton Wilcox for his input.

Wilcox said there will have to be short-term solutions involving help from Meritus Medical Center and from within the school system. But Wilcox said there will have to be a long-term plan that should be formulated by the summer so it can be ready to be implemented by the next school year.

“We have a real challenge before us,” Wilcox said. When asked after the meeting about condoms being dispensed to students who ask for them, Wilcox said that might be a possibility, but it will be part of a broader effort to battle teenage pregnancy.

Board of Education member Paul Bailey said he was “in shock, I guess” over the report, although he said it’s an issue that has faced the county before.

Board of Education President Justin Hartings said the issue is proof that society’s problems become the school system’s problems. While the priority of the school system is to educate students, school officials “can’t be naive about all the other things” and a long-term plan needs to be formulated to reverse the teenage pregnancy rate.

Ross said Meritus Health will partner with the board of education and community groups to recommend “evidence-based programs” that will involve counseling, education and contraception to battle teenage pregnancy. Meritus Health will also work with the school system on broader programs, Ross said.

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