Although teens in Kern County are giving birth at higher rates than almost anywhere else in the state, that trend is slowing, according to state data released this week.
California Public Health Department officials recorded 24,149 births by teens between the ages of 15 and 19 in 2015, the latest data available, down almost 3,000 from 2014. State officials lauded that statewide 10 percentage point decrease.
“By empowering young people with the knowledge, tools and resources to make healthy choices, California is succeeding in reducing births among adolescents,” said CDPH Director and State Public Health Officer Dr. Karen Smith.
At the same time, however, Kern County saw an almost 12 percentage point decrease since 2014, outpacing the state average, and a nearly 20 percentage point decrease since 2013.
The new data comes as the Kern County Public Health Services Department takes a renewed interest in the subject. It launched a robust public awareness campaign last year called "Know Your Risk" that has drawn together community leaders, elected officials and at least one local pastor to preach the importance of responsible and safe sex practices.
Kern Public Health officials said they were encouraged by the new data.
"We know there are adverse health outcomes associated with teen births such as low birth weight and a higher incidence of perinatal death," said Kern County Public Health spokeswoman Michelle Corson, adding that the department's "Know Your Risk" campaign is currently stressing the importance of parents talking with their kids about sex, which research shows leads to teens having sex at later ages.
She credited much of the decrease in local teen birthrates to work performed by community partners, including Planned Parenthood and community health provider Clinica Sierra Vista, which runs programs like Teen Success Inc, a teenage mother support group, the Adolescent Family Life Program, which provides case management and youth development services, and other teen pregnancy prevention programs.
“The decline in teen birthrates in the valley is great news and reflects the serious commitment by organizations like Clinica Sierra Vista to the only strategy that really works: education and support. Preventing teen pregnancy is the goal, but if we can work with teen moms to prevent a second or third pregnancy, that’s a win, too. And that’s what our programs do," said Clinica Sierra Vista spokeswoman Jennifer Self.
Although Kern’s birthrate among teens declined 48 percent between 2004 and 2014, its rate of 39 per 1,000 females ages 15-to-19 between 2013 and 2015 is topped by just three other counties.
Tulare, north of Kern, had a rate of 40 per 1,000; Imperial, on the Mexico border, had a rate of 42.5 per 1,000; and Del Norte, which straddles the Oregon border, had the state's highest rate of 43.1 per 1,000.
The state average is 17.6 per 1,000, a 62 percent decrease from 2002.
And while teenage birthrates declined across all races between 2000 and 2015, disparities still exist. Black and Latino adolescents were three to four times as likely to give birth as white females, according to the data.