In 1999, Bartow County had little reason to look forward to National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month as it faced a teen birthrate of 58.4 per 1,000, but today public health officials can celebrate the month of May with a rate more than 75 percent below that level as the 2011 teen birthrate fell to 13.9 per 1,000.
“When we started the teen program in the late ’90s, Bartow County and northwest Georgia had one of the highest teen pregnancy rates [in Georgia] and now they’re below the state average,” said Northwest Georgia Public Health Youth Development Coordinator Angie Robinson. “We’ve had these up-and-down bumps, but it’s like the last five years it has been a straight decrease.
“It’s no one program. It’s really been through the collaborative working together to make sure we have these things in place to make sure we’re reaching our parents, reaching our kids. We’ve started working more in the schools, in the afterschool programs and then just basic community awareness.”
One of the organizations working with public health on the initiative is Bartow Collaborative, a local nonprofit focused on fostering partnerships between community partners to meet needs.
“The significant drop in teen pregnancy in our community is great news, and we need to continue and build on the efforts that have helped us see such a significant positive change,” said Bartow Collaborative Coordinator Tina Grubbs in a press release. “We urge everyone to find ways in their homes, at their church or at work to talk to youth about the benefits of postponing pregnancy.
“People can also help by participating in the various community surveys through which we’re seeking feedback.”
Surveys conducted by Northwest Georgia Public Health have revealed areas in which the message of teen pregnancy prevention is best transmitted as well as how youth are affected by various efforts and what adult stakeholders are hearing when talking to teens.
“We’ve been doing community surveys and youth surveys, which we’re just now compiling, trying to see of all the activities that are going on to address teen pregnancy in the community— what are the activities that seem to be having the most impact? Because that’s what we want to continue — because something’s working,” Robinson said. “Through the surveys, we’re trying to get a handle on what’s happening in Bartow County and what we’re hearing from kids, parents and youth providers about all of these factors. So over the next couple months, we’ll really be looking at where we need to make sure the community remains focused, because we’re all under the gun for budgets, so we want to make sure something that is working doesn’t get cut and teen pregnancy rates go back up.”
Among the programs offered around Bartow County are family planning services, life skills presentations, healthy-decision making classes and parent education programs. Robinson specifically cited other resources making an impact, including Girl Talk at Cartersville Middle School, abstinence-based classes in Bartow County schools, Latino Afterschool programs at Douglas Street Methodist and the Bartow Youth Action Team.
Through some of the surveys, Robinson found an unexpected factor having a positive contribution to teen pregnancy rates locally and across the country. From talking to area youth, local providers have seen that popular reality TV shows may be helping teenagers make healthy decisions.
“One of the things we’ve found in interviews with youth providers is that because [teen pregnancy] is so much in the media, they say kids feel much more comfortable asking questions,” Robinson said. “Youth providers say a lot of the teens said that watching things on TV like ‘Teen Mom’ and ‘16 and Pregnant’ is having a positive impact and now we know that is a huge factor in the decrease.
“When these shows began, there was an initial concern, but follow-up research has heard kids saying, ‘Oh, no. That showed me a reality I do not want to have.’ And I think it takes a while to sink in. The first year, it could have been like, ‘Oh look, these girls got on TV.’ But as it follows the girls, they see that it is far from glamorous.”
A decrease in teen pregnancy has been seen in other communities across the country as well. Nationally, teen pregnancy rates have reached a historic low. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released 2011 data last year announcing the national teen pregnancy rate had dropped to 31.3 per 1,000.
For online resources, Robinson suggests youth visit www.stayteen.org and take a survey available only during the month of May.
For local resources, visit the Bartow Teen Resource Center at 140 Douglas St. or call 678-721-5922.