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June 2, 2013

Teen birth rates continue to decline

Local schools exploring preventive measures

LOGANSPORT — Indiana has one of the highest teen birth rates in the nation, and Cass County’s is even higher.

But that just might be changing.

The national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last month that Indiana’s teen birth rate fell 19 percent from 2007 to 2011, just below the national 20 percent decline. While births to non-Hispanic white teens in Indiana fell 15 percent, births to Hispanic teens fell a drastic 43 percent.

The latest data for Cass County — from years 2004-2010, and according to County Health Rankings — pegs the county’s rate at 48 births per 1,000 girls 15-19 years old, the 23rd highest in the state and well above the state average of 41 per 1,000 for the same years.

But the number has dropped every year since County Health Rankings began tabulating data. In 2010, the reported rate was 58 per 1,000.

Logansport school officials have noticed the same trend this year, too.

“Probably our normal numbers have been 15 to 20, and I know we’re below 10,” said Kathy Rozzi, nurse at Logansport High School, about a month before the school year ended.

And why? Rozzi explained hers and guidance counselor Lisa Andrews’ emphasis on preventive education, and added that it seemed to be working.

“Kids seem more mature in many ways,” Rozzi explained. “Maybe they’re listening to the education.”

Rozzi and Andrews both participate in a countywide task force created early last year to reduce the number of teens giving birth. While the rate has been falling consistently, it’s still far higher than the national rate and tops the state average, something local leaders would like to see change.

One approach they’ll soon be piloting is designed by the Social Health Association of Indiana, whose teen pregnancy prevention program starts in sixth grade.

The curriculum starts then with the basics of teen pregnancy and fetal development, focusing on prevention models and exploring goal setting and responsibility.

By seventh or eighth grade, it progresses to an eight-module “Making a Difference” program. Its theme is “proud and responsible behavior,” according to SHA’s website, and progresses through discussions about messages about sex, its consequences, the effects of self-esteem on decisions and ways to respond to peer pressure and partner pressure, including role-playing refusals and practicing negotiation skills.

Another seventh- or eighth-grade program discusses healthy relationships and how to identify unhealthy ones, particularly ones in which teen dating violence occurs.

For high school, SHA designs school-specific programs related to a variety of issues, including abstinence and contraception, relationships and responsibilities, and sexual harassment and teen dating violence.

“We think education’s a big key,” said Rozzi. “I go in the classroom sometimes for education and I’m always surprised by the things we’ve presented that they don’t know.”

And some of what they do know is misinformation, she added. On top of that, outside influences “almost educate them the wrong way,” Rozzi said.

Count reality TV among the outside influences. Several controversial reality TV shows starring teen mothers, including MTV’s “Teen Mom” and sequel as well as the network’s “16 and Pregnant,” have been widely criticized for glamorizing the life of teenage motherhood.

One survey from the University of Missouri’s Harry S Truman School of Public Affairs indicated the shows do not make teenage motherhood look easy to most teens, but 77 percent say that, instead, the shows help them better understand the challenges of pregnancy and parenting.

However, teens responding to the survey said their parents and friends still exercise the most influence on their decisions about sex.

Sarah Einselen is news

 editor for the Pharos-Tribune.

She can be reached at sarah.einselen@pharostribune.com

or 574-732-5151.

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