Despite Drop Across State, Teen Pregnancies Here Persist

November 28, 1991|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff writer

Even though pregnancies among the state's school-age girls decreasedover the past two years, Anne Arundel County did not see a corresponding drop and still has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Maryland, a new report shows.

The number of births to girls 18 and younger declined by more than 10 percent both in Maryland and Baltimore, the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy announced Tuesday. But while teen pregnancies were falling statewide between 1988 and 1990, they rose in the county.

In 1989, births to teens dropped 5.6 percent statewide, from 3,340 to 3,278. But they increased 5.6 percent in Anne Arundel County, from 555 to 588. The council's report did not include a statistical breakdown for each county for 1990.

The county continues to have a higher pregnancy rate than most other suburbs in the Baltimore-Washington region, public health officials said. Anne Arundel ranks second behind Baltimore City, with Howard, Montgomery, Prince George's and Baltimore counties trailing behind.

Youth advocates and members of the Anne Arundel County Teen Pregnancy Coalition said they weren't surprised by the latest report. They blamed a lack of easily available information on family planning and weak efforts to educate teen-agers about contraception in the public schools.

"It's like hitting your head against the wall to talk about prevention here," said Jane Morrell, who chaired the coalition for five years. "There's a very vocal group of people who are always putting up barriers to dealing with theproblem."

She and Rus Funk, a counselor at the Harundale youth bureau who is now heading the coalition, faulted the school system for failing to require family planning. In many Maryland school systems, students must take health and family life courses in middle and high school. But Anne Arundel schools only offer information on birth control in a high school elective.

"The family life curriculum does not effectively and adequately address the issues," Funk said. "And it's an elective. Our concern is that the information is not getting to young people."

Students learn about family relationships in elementary school and study physiology during the spring semester of sixth grade. In high school, they can elect to take a course that includes information on birth control, sexually transmitted disease and other "very advanced topics," said Dennis Younger, executive director of curriculum. But they must receive parental permission to do so.

Morrell and other advocates have clashed with conservative parents about expanding the curriculum to address AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases. "They didn't want to allow the word 'condom' in the AIDScurriculum," Morrell said. "It really was difficult."

A separate task force on teen pregnancy released a report in 1989 calling for changes in educating teen-agers about sex and family planning. But the bulk of the report was not implemented, said former County Councilwoman Carole B. Baker, who chaired the task force.

"There's no doubt in my mind that the government sat on that report," she said.

Several public health programs have been introduced recently to promote abstinence and encourage sexually active youths to use contraception. The Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy has sponsored workshops with students and parent-teacher associations to talk about sex. Posters from the council's Campaign for Our Children have been tacked up on school walls to warn students about pregnancy.

Annapolis is one of three areas in Maryland targeted in a pilot project to decreaseteen pregnancy.

A teen clinic was opened at the Stanton Health Center to teach teen-age boys and girls about health issues, sexuality and contraception. The program differs slightly from the clinics in Baltimore and Prince George's County by involving the community to a greater degree, said Evelyn Stein, spokeswoman for the county Health Department.

The Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy attributed the 10.6 percent decrease in teen pregnancies in Baltimore to suchtactics. By working with community leaders, ministers and school counselors, the coalition "got the message out" about abstinence and contraception, said council spokeswoman Erlene B. Wilson. The effort could allow Baltimore to end its first-place ranking for teen pregnancies among girls 14 and younger.

"We have a lot of areas still to work on," she said when asked about Anne Arundel County. "Clearly our work is not over -- it's just the beginning."

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