Teen birth rates in California have reached a new low, but in the Central Valley, the rates are still among the highest in the state.
According to a report released earlier this month by the California Department of Public Health, teen birth rates have continued to decline to a record low of 25.7 births per every 1,000 females ages 15 to 19. The report provides three-year aggregated teen birth rates from 2010 to 2012, the last years studied.
In Merced County, there were 41.6 births per every 1,000 teens in the three-year span. This is a decrease from the average recorded in last year’s report of 44.9 teen births for the years of 2009 to 2011.
The counties with the highest teen birth rates are Tulare with 53.7 and Kern with 53.4. Marin and Placer counties have the lowest teen birth rates.
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Kings, Fresno and Madera also had high rates of teen births, according to the CDPH.
The report reveals that rates decreased among all racial and ethnic groups between 2000 and 2012. Hispanic teens continue to have the highest birth rate at 38.9 per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19. That group also had the largest 12-year decline, from 77.3 in 2000. Rates also dropped for black adolescents, from 59.1 to 30.8; among whites, from 22.3 to 10.2; and among Asians, from 15 to 5.
According to Kathleen Grassi, Merced County’s director of public health, a decline in teen birth rates is a step in the right direction, but she says there’s still a lot of work to be done in Merced and the rest of the Central Valley.
“We haven’t had as many opportunities to invest in a lot of the efforts that have proved to be successful in reducing teen pregnancy,” Grassi said. “Other counties have invested a great deal in health education and it does make a difference. Unfortunately, we just don’t have the resources here.”
Grassi said the county public health department has been struggling to provide the mandated basic services. Resources for teen pregnancy education are put aside until funding is available.
“We want to be able to do more, but it’s complicated when you can’t dedicate a staff to focus on (teen pregnancies),” Grassi said. “But it’s definitely something we’re concerned about and will continue to work on given the resources.”
Merced County does, however, run the Young Parents Program. The YPP provides counseling and connections to resources for teens who are pregnant or parents. Grassi said the goals of the program are to ensure that young parents receive guidance on how to care for their children and reduce the rate of repeated teen birth rates.
“Overall, I am pleased to see the rates are going down,” Grassi said. “That’s a good thing for our teen population.”