As teen pregnancies decline nationally, new data suggests the dip may be even steeper in Spokane.
While this is encouraging to local school and health officials, there seems to be little consensus as to what is causing the drop.
The U.S. Census Bureau released statistics estimating that teen fertility rates in the city of Spokane have dropped 79 percent from 2009 to 2013. The fertility rate of women ages 15-19 in 2013 is nine per 1,000 women, down from a rate of 42 per 1,000 in 2009 and 28 per 1,000 in 2012, according to Census Bureau data.
The Spokane Regional Health District had different numbers that it believes to be more accurate, and those numbers still reveal a dramatic decline in teen pregnancy. Its numbers say the rate of pregnancies per 1,000 women in Spokane County went from 51.6 to 26.68 in a 10-year span ending in 2013. The fertility rate was 18.8 in 2013.
Kevin Morrison, spokesman for Spokane Public Schools, said the district is pleased with the declining teen pregnancy rates because students who have children are more likely to drop out of school.
“Any reduction [in teen pregnancy rates] is going to keep kids in school longer,” Morrison said.
Abortion rates have also declined about 60 percent in the past 10 years in Spokane County, according to the health district.
Karl Eastlund, CEO at Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho, said the Washington Healthy Youth Act that went into effect in 2008 has had a big impact in sex education. The Healthy Youth Act requires all sexual education in public schools to be “medically and scientifically accurate” and teach both abstinence and birth control.
“Washington is ahead of the curve on the Healthy Youth Act,” Eastlund said.
Eastlund added that new forms of long-acting reversible contraception have also helped pregnancy rates.
Morrison also cited the Healthy Youth Act as a positive influence on sex education in the state, but says Spokane Public Schools has not significantly changed the amount of sex education they’ve taught.
Gene Sementi, superintendent for the West Valley School District, said even when students get pregnant, schools will work with them and find the best option for them, whether that means staying in school or transferring to one of their two alternative schools – Spokane Valley High School and Dishman Hills High School. There, students can create a school schedule that would be more accommodating during their pregnancy.
“We try not to think of pregnant teens as a group, but as individuals,” Sementi said.
Nationally, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the teen birth rate per 1,000 was 39.7 in 2005 and dropped to 29.4 in 2012.
The CDC hypothesizes that adolescents possibly are less sexually active than in past years, and the teens that are sexually active are using more contraceptives. But Elaine Conley, director of community and family services for the Spokane Regional Health District, said there is no substantial evidence that teens are less sexually active. There are many factors that could play into a lower rate of teen pregnancy and fertility rates, she said.
Conley said the reduction is not as steep among Hispanic and black teens as much as it is for white teens. Also, teen pregnancies tend to occur more frequently for teens with mothers that did not finish high school. Low-income neighborhoods tend to have more teen pregnancies as well.
West Central has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Spokane, and Five Mile has the lowest teenage pregnancy rate, according to the Spokane Regional Health District.
Adrian Dominguez, an epidemiologist for the health district, said poverty is a factor in teenage pregnancy rates, but education and environment are as well.
“When you bring them all together, all of those things have an impact,” Dominguez said.
The health district has programs to help low-income neighborhoods and may have helped guide the decline in teenage pregnancy locally. One example is the Neighborhoods Matter program, which goes into local neighborhoods and finds out how to improve health issues and connect neighborhood residents.
The program started in the East Central neighborhood in 2010, and they are moving to the Hillyard neighborhood this year. Rowena Pineda, the program manager, said they promote activities that allow neighbors to get to know each other.
Having support for families can lead to better health and, potentially, a lower rate of teen pregnancy, she said. Pineda said low-income neighborhoods may contribute to a higher rate of teen pregnancies, but the issue goes full-circle.
“If you’re a teen mom, chances are you may not have graduated from high school,” Pineda said. “Or maybe you did graduate from high school, but because you’re a teen mom, you’re much more likely to live in poverty, and then much more likely to be a single parent.”
Eastlund said the U.S. still is not as far along as it should be when it comes to preventing teen pregnancy.
“We’ve got a long way to go if we want to compare ourselves to other developed countries,” Eastlund said.
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