Birth rates among teens is at a 73-year low nationwide, according to recently released data by the Center for Disease Control.
In Crow Wing County, however, teen birth rates still exceed those of the nation.
According to the CDC, the birth rate among teens ages 15 to 19 fell 6 percent last year, to 29.4 births per thousand. That’s the lowest rate in the 73 years the government has been collecting the data.
Locally, the latest rate is 32 births per thousand among the same age group.
Although Crow Wing County has a slightly higher rate, it’s a lot better compared to about 20 years ago, officials say. That’s when the county ranked 6th highest out of the 87 Minnesota counties for teen pregnancy.
Because of that alarming rate, the county’s teen pregnancy prevention programs were formed. Today, known as the Brainerd Lakes Area ENABL group (Education Now and Babies Later), leaders go into the classrooms of three school districts and shine a light on the tough subject: teen pregnancy.
By the time Dr. Hal Leland sees teen moms at Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center, it’s too late to reach them.
There are plenty of resources for young mothers after they give birth, but dwindling resources for prevention, he said.
That’s where ENABL comes in. The education group uses teens from three school district to educate their peers on why waiting for sexual involvement is important.
“(Awareness) is getting better,” said Cheryl Craig, coordinator for the county’s teen pregnancy prevention program. “It’s a good sign because it use to be worse. That doesn’t mean it’s great now. We still have too many teen parents.”
There’s a misconception among teens that everyone is having sex, said Karlyn Anderson, district coordinator for ENABL. That’s not true.
By ninth grade, 75 percent of local boys say they haven’t had sex yet. That’s compared to 77 percent of girls.
Come 12th grade, about 48 percent of students say they’re still virgins.
“This is not just a girl issue,” Craig said.
At Essentia Health-St. Joseph’s Medical Center, pregnancy rates among 14-19-year-olds has fluctuated in the past four years, with 51 births in 2010; 40 births in 2011, 52 in 2012, and 20 births through August this year.
“It would be nice to have the numbers lower,” Leland said.
Nearly half of teens look to their parents as a role model for messages like on teen sexuality, Craig said.
Not getting the anti-sexual activity message there can have an effect, she said, as well as drug and alcohol use.
Still, there will always be the teenagers you can’t reach, Leland said. A lot of factors go into that, like education, resources and support from family.
“It comes down to common sense,” he said. “The more resources a kids has in their life, the better off their life is.”
In the “perfect world,” Leland says that education would come from inside the home from parents and guardians.
“Realistically, we need ENABL in school systems to provide them the education they need,” he said.
“Teach them early and often,” he said.
Five years ago, state and federal funding for ENABL dried up, so organizers are holding it together through local grants and out of their own pockets.
It’s worth it, Craig says, even if it prevents just one teen parent.
“This affects the community as a whole,” she said.
Still, Craig doesn’t see teen parents disappearing all together.
“The issue always has been around and it always will be,” she said.
She added: “it’s remarkable the rates are going down because the pressure on kids is going up.”