Programs help lower teen pregnancy rate

Angela Tisdo, left, RN at Albany High School, counsels 18-year-old Amanda Coney on her pregnancy. Tisdol’s services are provided by Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital’s Network of Trust.

Angela Tisdo, left, RN at Albany High School, counsels 18-year-old Amanda Coney on her pregnancy. Tisdol’s services are provided by Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital’s Network of Trust.

ALBANY, Ga. -- Teen births are at their lowest level in decades with fewer babes born across the country since 1946, according to a recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Nationally, the number of live births per thousand women, age 15-19, declined 9 percent from 2009 to 2010 and 44 percent from 1991 through 2010. By the CDC's figures, if the teen birth rate had not declined from those observed in 1991, there would have been an additional 3.4 million births to teens through 2010.

While Georgia teen birth figures were not immediately comparable across the same span of years, according to the Online Analytical Statistical Information System (OASIS), a public informational website of the Georgia Department of Public Health, teen births in Dougherty County declined by just more than 25 percent in the period between 1994 and 2004 -- a significant reduction.

According to her organization's website, Sarah Brown, CEO of the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, believes that teens are being more "careful" when it come to sexual activity. She attributes the decline in births not only to fewer sexual encounters but to increased use of contraception as well.

Debra Willingham, director of the Dougherty County Teen Center, a unit of The Southwest Georgia Health District, agrees. However, she is careful to place the greater emphasis on providing teens a reason to be careful.

"Young people have dreams," Willingham said, "and if a young lady wants to be a doctor or a nurse and comes to believe she can't (achieve that dream) she may decide she can be a mother."

According to Willingham, while birth rates tend to be significantly higher for Hispanics and African Americans, the common thread throughout is poverty and a lack of information. The Southwest Georgia Health District partners with a variety of organizations, including Strive 2 Thrive, Girl Scouts and Girls Inc.

The Taking Time for Teens Coalition brings together more than 30 organizations involved with pregnancy and other issues, to bring to teenage girls and boys the message that "dreams comes first and babies come later."

While the promise of a better life through education has been shown to be effective, Willingham knows that teens often fall short of their own good intentions and so she's a realist when it comes to birth control. She endorses sex education in the public schools, she said, and the availability of contraception.

"We have to recognize that no matter what, young people are having sex," Willingham said, "Most of the science today shows that abstinence education is not preventing pregnancy. We have to help them to take care of themselves and delay their pregnancies until they can take care of their babies."

Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital's Network of Trust is a grant-funded project whose stated goals include "repeat" pregnancies, and providing a "stay in school" focus, stressing high school graduation. The network offers a program designed to build self-esteem to all pregnant teens in Calhoun, Dougherty, Lee, Terrell and Worth counties.

The United States has one of the highest rates of teen pregnancy of any industrialized nation," said Angie Barber, Network Trust director, "This statistic alone should challenge each person to look around and ask how they can help to make a positive difference in the lives of the people around them. To see a decrease in teen pregnancy in Georgia and in Dougherty is a positive change for all of us."