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Archive for Sunday, October 25, 2009

Teen pregnancy rate reversed

Downward trend of past two decades has led to less prevention funding

Amber Criss watches as her 4-month-old son, Robert, is fed by his father, Matt Ryan, on Wednesday evening in the Ryans’ home. Shortly before her due date, Criss moved in with the Ryans, where the couple receives support from Matt’s mother and father. During the days when they are at school finishing their senior years of high school at Lawrence High, Matt’s mother Patti babysits Robert.

Amber Criss watches as her 4-month-old son, Robert, is fed by his father, Matt Ryan, on Wednesday evening in the Ryans’ home. Shortly before her due date, Criss moved in with the Ryans, where the couple receives support from Matt’s mother and father. During the days when they are at school finishing their senior years of high school at Lawrence High, Matt’s mother Patti babysits Robert.

October 25, 2009

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Patti Ryan shares a moment with her grandson, Robert. Mark and Patti Ryan explained that after the initial shock of knowing their teenage son was going to be a father, the couple took the attitude of preparing for the future and have done what they can to help Matt and Amber raise their grandson.

Patti Ryan shares a moment with her grandson, Robert. Mark and Patti Ryan explained that after the initial shock of knowing their teenage son was going to be a father, the couple took the attitude of preparing for the future and have done what they can to help Matt and Amber raise their grandson.

Pregnancy rate per 1,000 women, 15 to 19 years old, including live births, abortions and stillbirths.

Pregnancy rate per 1,000 women, 15 to 19 years old, including live births, abortions and stillbirths.

Teen birth rates in Kansas

Top counties in state for total number of teen births or highest rates:

County / Rate* / Total Births

Brown 41.3 27

Butler 24.6 111

Douglas 14.3 120

Elk 49.1 8

Finney 43.1 155

Ford 43.5 107

Geary 50 107

Hamilton 62.1 11

Johnson 15.2 530

Kearny 46.7 14

Leavenworth 26 131

Reno 30.7 118

Saline 40.8 137

Sedgwick 34.1 1139

Seward 59.3 106

Shawnee 30.7 333

Stanton 85.5 13

Wyandotte 54.5 589

  • Rate is per 1,000 girls between the ages of 10 and 19.

Source: Kansas Department of Health and Environment, 2008 Annual Summary of Vital Statistics

In-between bathing, feeding and diapering their 4-month-old son, Matt Ryan and Amber Criss had to find time to finish their physics homework one evening last week.

About a year ago, the thought of Robert, an easy-going baby with deep blue eyes who coos and blows bubbles, was something of a shock to the high school couple.

“You are scared. You don’t know what to do or how to tell your parents,” said Criss, who moved into her boyfriend’s home shortly before giving birth.

“I thought my life was over,” Ryan said.

As it turns out, it wasn’t. And, as many parents have discovered, the first four months are full of surprises.

“I wasn’t as horrible at it as I kind of thought I would be,” Ryan said, and then looked down to smile at his son. “I didn’t know what to do or how to do it, but it just kind of comes naturally.”

That’s not to say life hasn’t changed for the 17-year-old Lawrence High School seniors.

“We had to grow up. We couldn’t be as immature as a lot of kids,” said Criss, who delivered Robert in June.

Teen pregnancy rates rising

Like Criss, more teenage girls across the country are having babies. After years of steadily falling, the birth rate among Kansas teens and teens in the rest of the nation is starting to rise. However, programs in Lawrence haven’t seen an increase.

In 2007 in the United States, for girls between the ages of 15 and 19, the birth rate was 42.5 out of 1,000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. It was a 5 percent increase from 2005. In Kansas, the birth rate climbed by 12 percent from 2004 to 2008, to a rate of 45.6.

One of the nation’s biggest success stories had been a reduction in the teen pregnancy rate in the past two decades, said Bill Albert, a spokesman for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

The reversal of that trend is worrisome, he said.

“It may be a wake-up call to parents, to practitioners, to policymakers and others that this continues to be an important problem that needs attention, resources and effort,” he said.

The wake-up call

In the 1990s, two trends were occurring that resulted in a 34 percent drop of the teen birth rate. Teens reported having less sex. And those who were having sex were more likely to use contraception.

“That magic formula has been turned on its head,” Albert said.

Part of the reason could be that teenagers perceive AIDS and STDs as less of a risk than their counterparts did more than a decade ago.

“The perceptions is that (HIV) is no longer a death sentence. Less concern translates into less condom use,” said Laura Lindberg, with the national nonprofit reproductive health organization the Guttmacher Institute.

Lindberg noted another change, the push toward abstinence-only sex education during the George W. Bush administration. Sex education programs focused on the message of not having sex until marriage and the fact that all contraception had some chance of failure.

Another explanation, Albert said, may be “success fatigue.” After almost 15 years of decline, less attention and funding is being provided for pregnancy prevention programs.

“You have to continue working on this issue because there are new teenagers every day,” he said.

Faced with budget restraints, the Kansas Department of Health and Environment slashed $300,000 worth of teen pregnancy prevention programs this summer.

Among the cuts was the Teen Independence Project, a $77,500 program at the Lawrence-Douglas County Health Department. Teenage mothers are still being served through other programs, but a staff position was lost, said Barbara Schnitker, director of clinical services.

Talking to teens

Family and Consumer Science teacher Betty Currie asked her class of Lawrence High School students last week why they thought birth rates were increasing across the country.

“They said a lot of times it is just abstinence and ‘don’t do it, don’t do it,’” Currie said. “They felt like they need to know both sides of it.”

Her students also said that more education should take place in junior high school and that parents need to be more open with their children.

Research shows that parents are still the No. 1 factor in a teen’s decisions about sexual activity.

“This is an ongoing, 18-year conversation,” Albert said. “Parents are more powerful than they believe in this area.”

As for Currie, she believes teens need to hear about the emotional ramifications of being sexually active — as well as the physical ones.

The emotional strain of having sex too young was a burden that Barbara Watkins carried for years.

“A condom doesn’t protect your heart,” she likes to say.

At the age of 15, Watkins had an abortion. At the age of 17, she had a daughter. She said she was “fractured” well into adulthood as she lived with the guilt of having an abortion.

“They just said ‘good girls don’t do it’. Well, shoot, that didn’t mean anything to me,” Watkins said. “I wish someone would have taken the time to sit down and explain, you have a high value, you are worth waiting for.”

Today at 50, Watkins is the director of the Pregnancy Care Center of Lawrence at the LEO Center, a nonprofit Christian organization. When she talks to teenagers she encourages abstinence and warns that sex comes with a price tag.

“You are walking away from the innocence of being a kid and walking into an adult role,” she tells them.

A change in priorities

When Ryan and Criss are asked what advice they have for other teens, the conversation veers in one direction.

“Use protection,” Criss answered.

“And, try not to do it,” Ryan followed up.

Ryan’s mom, Patti Ryan, said she warned her son to be careful.

“We had had the talk, if you are going to do it, you have to have protection,” she said.

Hearing the news that her son’s girlfriend was pregnant wasn’t easy. But Patti and her husband, Mark, decided the couple shouldn’t drop out of school and the baby wasn’t going to be put up for adoption. The two care for Robert during school hours.

In the Ryan household, the bottle feeding, bathing, changing of diapers and putting to bed is a tag-team effort. And they are jobs that usually more than one person wants to do.

“This guy is a million-dollar baby, at the least. He’s very much a keeper,” Mark said.

As for life after high school, Ryan and Criss’ education plans are on hold. Ryan wants to keep working and Criss will stay at home to take care of Robert.

“He’s my first priority,” Criss said.

Comments

Cait McKnelly 5 years, 2 months ago

Personally, I think this is the result of eight years of failed, "Just Say NO" and "Virginity contract" abstinence policies and the refusal to provide accurate, reasoned and intelligent sex education from an ultra conservative government. Sex education should start at puberty and should be opt out, not opt in and should be a requirement for graduation from state schools unless parental consent is withheld. This is a grave pediatric health issue and you can call my opinions "nanny state" all you like but it would save and positively impact the lives of children and young adults for years to come. To me this is just one more example of the result of a "prolife" (HA!) government that could have cared less about babies, and the children who have those babies, once they were born.

tomatogrower 5 years, 2 months ago

Education is the key. First try and tell them to respect themselves and wait, but then give them the means to protect themselves if they decide not to wait. Currie is probably more in favor of abstinence only, and I do agree that girls and boys need to know that sex isn't something to be entered into lightly. You give a part of yourself when you have sex, and when you give it to a one night stand it is meaningless and not returned. When you give it to someone you love, it's returned. However, many don't get that message from home or pop culture, so they need to protect themselves from pregnancy and STD's. To deny them that information is child abuse.

denak 5 years, 2 months ago

I applaud Amber and Matt for living up to their responsibilities. However, in my opinion, Matt and Amber are about to make an even bigger mistake then having sex to young. Neither one of them plan to continue their education once they are finish with high school. This is a big mistake. Both of them should be encouraged to go on to college or a vocational school. It seems to me that they have the support of Matt's parents. This is something they should use while going back to school. Having ready-made babysitters will help a lot. I hope that if they are reading these commentsthat they will seriously think bout going to college. I went through college as a single parent. I know several other women who did too. Lawrence is ideally suited to help parents get through college.It isn't easy going to college and raising a family but four to eight years of college is a lot easier than 18 years of poverty.

Dena

Danimal 5 years, 2 months ago

Abstinence only education is stupid, but parents need to be stepping up and teaching their kids a few things about life. It seems like everytime our society faces a problem now the solution is that the schools aren't doing enough. We need to have health classes and whatnot, but we can't expect teachers to both raise and educate our children.

9070811 5 years, 2 months ago

Comprehensive sexual education saves lives!

james bush 5 years, 2 months ago

Better than aborting when you bad/unsound choices and engage in activities that may have irreversible consequences! Depressing story but hope they make the best of their lives.

parrothead8 5 years, 2 months ago

I, too, applaud Matt and Amber, but hope that at least one of them chooses to continue with education. They are right to make their son their first priority, as Amber says, but part of that is making sure his parents are prepared.

Amber and Matt, if you are reading this, think of how much better you'll be able to provide for Robert and how many more opportunities he'll have if his mother and/or father have at least some education beyond high school. Even a two-year certificate from a community college drastically increases your earnings potential over a high school diploma. A few more years of hard work on your part could mean a world of difference for the rest of Robert's life.

cherryjonesbottle77 5 years, 2 months ago

I definitely agree that parents need to get more involved. I mean, you can say all you want 'DON'T HAVE SEX', but come on, get real. Teenagers are teenagers, and their goal is to break every rule ever set, especially big ones. I think parents don't like having that discussion because they don't want to face their children growing up in that way. I definitely say waiting is a good idea, but you have to provide the child with reasons WHY, and not just "save it til marriage" they don't hear that. They hear "I'm giving you more and more rules and not saying why they're important."

As far as Matt and Amber, I really hope you read these comments and listen. One or both of you NEEDS to get a higher education. In the next ten years, you will be seriously hurt income wise with just a GED. Not to mention, Robert WILL be better off that way. I understand he's your first priority, he should be, meaning one of you needs to get more learning. Start setting an example NOW, not later. If you blow off college, so will he. He's already more likely to get a girl pregnant at your age too. Matt's parents seem pretty supportive, let them help you. Oh, and don't say "Well I can't afford that". That's what loans and jobs are for. If there's a will, there's a way, and for the sake of yourselves and your son, you need to find a will.

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