All newborns need a strong start in life, and fare best when their mothers are healthy and have a strong social support network, sufficient financial resources, and access to education. Yet, many teen mothers lack these critical fundamentals. Babies of teen mothers are more likely to be born prematurely, have a low-weight birth, experience health problems and developmental delays, and die before their first birthday. These children are also more likely to struggle academically, drop out of school, experience homelessness, engage in juvenile delinquency, and become teen parents themselves as they grow older.
Although the teen birth rate has been on a general decline since the 1950s, the U.S. still has one of the highest rates among industrialized countries. Kentucky’s rate has largely experienced this same downward trend, but remains consistently higher than the national rate. Compared to surrounding states, Kentucky is tied with Tennessee as having the highest rate of teen births in the region, at 51 teen births per 1,000 females ages 15-19. Though 2007-2009 county-level data is subject to change (once all births by Kentucky mothers in neighboring states are accounted for), preliminary teen birth rates varied greatly across the Commonwealth. In 2007-2009, Calloway, Oldham, Rowan and Spencer Counties had rates at or below 26 per 1,000 females ages 15-19 while Bath, Carroll, Christian, Harlan and Russell Counties had rates greater than 85 per 1,000 females ages 15-19. To see how your county is faring on teen births, view the 2011 County Data Book here.
Research strongly suggests that sex education, as well as promotion of and access to highly effective contraceptive methods are needed to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies among sexually active youth. Communities can also reduce teen births by ensuring young women have protective factors, such as strong connections with their community and school, and plans and opportunities for a successful transition into adulthood. For those who are already teen mothers it is vital to maintain engagement with school, not only for their future economic success, but also because completing a high school education reduces their risk for another teen pregnancy.
May is Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month – a reminder that we all need to continue helping teens postpone starting a family until they are older, through school, and in stable, committed relationships. Advocates for Youth has lots of information for parents, resources for professionals, and a guidebook for communities interested in prevention initiatives. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a variety of social media tools to promote your organization or community’s teen pregnancy prevention efforts. There are also a number of teen-friendly resources to help teens think carefully about sex, relationships, contraception, the possibility of pregnancy, and the lifelong challenges of being a parent. Check out and share the following resources with the teens in your life:
– StayTeen.org (information, blog, videos, quiz, games), and
– The Candie’s Foundation (videos, real stories, apps).
Kentucky Youth Advocates thanks the KIDS COUNT Data Sponsor Children’s Alliance for their support of this KIDS COUNT indicator.