Washington state's teen birthrate overall is lower than the national average, according to a new report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but the rates in particular communities are high.
Teen pregnancy is associated with all sorts of bad things — physical risks to babies, interrupted education for moms, and lower lifetime incomes all around — so it’s good news that Washington, overall, has a significantly lower rate than the U.S. average.
But the statistics released Wednesday morning by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention don’t tell the whole story. Buried inside the big-picture statistics about Washington are numbers that reveal pockets of teen pregnancy, often in nearby high schools and middle schools.
Consider this: According to Public Health — Seattle & King County, for every 1,000 teenage girls aged 15 to 17 in Issaquah-Sammamish, there are 1.6 births. But in Burien, less than 24 miles away, there are 16 times as many births — nearly 27 for every 1,000 girls.
Or Seattle’s North-South gap: In Northeast Seattle, there are 1.7 births for every 1,000 teens. But in Southeast Seattle, that number zooms to nearly 18.
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Using these statistics, the Northwest Coalition for Adolescent Health, made up of six Planned Parenthood affiliates in five Northwestern states, has scored $20 million in federal funds to bring a five-year teen-pregnancy-prevention program to 73 high-risk schools.
It’s in these areas that teens often have trouble accessing health care or skills that could help them avoid pregnancy.
Ultimately, the program expects to reach 8,000 teens.
In general, according to the national statistics, Hispanic teens and non-Hispanic black teens are significantly more likely than non-Hispanic whites to have babies.
So schools such as Global Connections High School in the Highline School District, which has the second-highest birthrate of school districts in King County, welcome the program, says principal Rick Harwood.
In two weeks, his school, where more than 50 percent of the students are Hispanic, African or African-American, will begin hosting the Planned Parenthood program, now refining its approach for a full rollout in some schools next fall.
“A big concern is that a lot of our students don’t get accurate or helpful information early enough to influence their decision-making,” despite health-education classes in 9th and 10th grades that include some pregnancy-prevention information, Harwood says,
The Planned Parenthood programs will replicate the “Teen Outreach Program” (TOP), a model the feds say has proved effective in curbing teen pregnancy. They go beyond the “biology of reproduction” to talk about decision-making, values and social issues surrounding teen pregnancy, Harwood says.
Willa Marth, TOP project director for Planned Parenthood, says she doesn’t expect pushback from parents. “This curriculum is really holistic,” she says. “Kids are going to gain leadership skills, do something good in the community, learn how to have healthy relationships and keep themselves safe. It’s hard to argue with.”
The pilot program at Global Connections High will involve about 25 students who signed up or who were nominated by teachers. Their parents must approve, and nearly all did, Harwood says.
“I think it will have an impact,” Harwood says. “We’re ready and willing. Our hope is they can expand it here at our school.”
Other schools that have agreed to be early sites include Aki Kurose Middle School, Cleveland High School and Rainier Beach High School, all in South Seattle.
At Rainier Beach, Principal Lisa Escobar said she likes the program because it works to develop “positive relationships” and connections to the community. “When kids experience success, feel connected to school and the community, they’re much less likely to do risky behavior,” she says.
Overall, according to Wednesday’s report by the CDC, Washington’s teen birthrate — fewer than 35 births per every thousand — looks better than the national average of 41.5 births.
The CDC reports births among 15- to 19-year-olds, while the King County statistics reflect births among 15- to 17-year olds.
According to the CDC, whites and non-Hispanic black teens in Washington were also below national averages; Washington was one of the 10 lowest states in birthrates by black teens.
But the birthrate among Hispanic teens in Washington was significantly higher: For every 1,000 Hispanic teens in Washington, there were nearly 99 births, versus nearly 82 per thousand nationally.
Across the country, the CDC reported, there is wide variation in rates among each group from state to state.
For example: Hispanic teenagers in Alabama were much more likely to give birth than those in Maine (188 births per thousand Alabama Hispanic teens versus 31 per thousand Maine teens).
In Hawaii, births among black teens were 17 per thousand — while the birthrate among white teens was nearly twice that. By comparison, in Wisconsin, births among black teens were 95 per thousand.
Carol M. Ostrom: 206-464-2249 or email@example.com