Teenage pregnancy on the decline but still lots of room for improvement

LACONIA — The campaign to reduce the rate of teen pregnancy has been one of the clear success stories of the past two decades. Since peaking in 1990, the national rate has declined 42 percent, dropping to a nearly 40 year low, according to the Centers for Disease Control's center for statistics. Nowhere has that change been more dramatic than New Hampshire, which has seen its teen pregnancy rate decline faster than any other state.
The Granite State now has the lowest teen pregnancy rate and the lowest teen birth rate.
Even so, there's more progress to be made in reducing teen pregnancy, thinks Rachel Deveau, community health and social services specialist at the Family Planning and Prenatal Program on Belmont Road in Laconia, an agency of Community Action Program Belknap-Merrimack Counties, Inc. The statewide teen pregnancy rate, measured in 2008, was 33 out of 1,000. The national average is 68 per 1,000 teen girls.
Deveau said it's a matter that should be a concern to more than just teenage girls and their parents. Teenage mothers are statistically less likely to graduate from high school or eard a GED. Both parents, if they start their families as teenagers, are likely to earn less money than their peers that delayed parenthood until their 20s. Teenage motherhood is associated with higher rates of health problems, incarceration and unemployment. Deveau said families started with teenage parents are also likely to be dependent upon state-funded services, both for initial prenatal and maternity care and for years to come.
"This is our workforce, the young people," said Deveau, adding that her hope is for young women to "delay pregnancy until they are physically, financially and emotionally able to start a family."
Belknap County had 127 teens give birth between the years of 2008 and 2010, according to CDC figures. As a per-capita rate, Belknap's was greater then Strafford, Merrimack, Rockingham, Grafton, Cheshire and Carroll counties.
Deveau hopes the declining trend of teenaged pregnancies will continue. "Times are kind of changing, we don't have as many teen pregnancies as we have in the past." A big part of the change, she said, is more open communication about sex and its possible repercussions. "It's not as taboo as it maybe was years ago," said Deveau. When young people are informed of their risks, and strategies such as abstinence or contraception, they make better choices, she continued. "They're delaying pregnancy until later."
Despite recent progress, teenage pregnancies continue to occur. The Family Planning and Prenatal Program is promoting the 12th Annual National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, May 1, to highlight the issue. On that day, and for the rest of the month, teenagers are invited to visit stayteen.org to participate in the National Day Quiz, which is designed to get young people to think about how they'll act when confronted with a choice that could result in pregnancy.
Throughout the year, the Family Planning and Prenatal Program, a private non-profit organization funded by federal Title X and state funds, provides family planning services to men and women of all ages. Services include reproductive health care, access to contraceptive services, supplies and counseling, pregnancy testing, sexually transmitted infection testing and treatment, and vaccines.
The Laconia site, located at the Lakes Region Family Center, also offers comprehensive prenatal care. Fees for the services are provided on a sliding scale. Deveau said her agency will serve teenagers with or without parental consent.