Kern County consistently has one of the highest teen birthrates in California. How high is it? If Kern were a state unto itself, it would challenge Mississippi for the worst rate in the nation. Local health educators have worked hard to make inroads with a largely conservative community not predisposed to encouraging sexually active teens to practice birth control. For many, the solution is, simply, "don't do it."
That approach may work for some teens, but the horse has left the barn for thousands of others -- and that's especially true of teen girls who have already given birth. As a result, teen mothers are not often targeted by health educators in the same way childless teens are. Now, a new study from the Centers for Disease Control confirms what many have suspected: Teen mothers are at a greater risk for second pregnancies than childless teens are for their first.
Of the 365,000 teens who had babies in the U.S. in 2010, 20 percent had previously given birth, the CDC study reveals. A key finding of the study is that an overwhelming number of teen mothers tried to prevent a second (or third) pregnancy by way of contraception but didn't know how to access the most effective methods. The study reveals that 91 percent of teen mothers used some form of birth control, but only 1 in 5 used the most effective methods, such as implants and IUDs.
In Kern, girls 15 to 19 who gave birth to a second (or more) child represented 16.7 percent of 2010's total teen births; in 2011, it was 18.4 percent. Kern averages 56 teen pregnancies per 1,000 girls, well above the state and national average of 34. In some rural areas of the county, the rate peaks at 85 per 1,000.
The CDC recommends a multidimensional approach to sex prevention for teens. It rightly advocates teaching abstinence and counseling to prevent first and additional pregnancies, but it also understands realities of teen life, and urges teaching sexually active teens about most effective forms of birth control, something the data indicate teens need to know.
It behooves us to follow the guidance laid out in the CDC report, and not just for the obvious reasons. Teen birthrates correlate to a number of social and economic challenges: educational attainment, workforce capabilites, poverty and even gang activity. Making a serious dent in the teen birthrate addresses issues that affect the entire community.