Durham County

Teen pregnancies are way down in N.C. Here’s why.

This file photo from 2009 shows a pregnant teen who lives at a home for unwed mothers in Raleigh at the Christian Life Home. Teen pregnancies in North Carolina have declined 62 percent since 1996, according to state figures.
This file photo from 2009 shows a pregnant teen who lives at a home for unwed mothers in Raleigh at the Christian Life Home. Teen pregnancies in North Carolina have declined 62 percent since 1996, according to state figures. The News & Observer

Contraceptives, abstaining from or postponing sex, and fewer young people willing to take chances are bringing down teen births in North Carolina.

The birth rate for teenagers ages 15 to 19 years old fell 62 percent from 1996 to 2015, North Carolina’s State Center for Health Statistics says in a new report.

In 1996, there were 15,290 births among teens 15-19, or a rate of 62.3 per 1,000 teen women.

In 2015, the state had 7,635 teen births, or 23.5 per 1,000. (The difference between the rates for 1996 and 2015 accounts for the 62 percent decrease. The number of actual births dropped by half.)

By comparison, the teen birth rate in the United States dropped 58 percent during the same period, the report states.

Young people are a bit more risk-averse than in previous years.

Elizabeth Finley, SHIFT NC

The report attributes the decline to increased use of contraceptives and fewer teen women having sex.

“There’s a lot of research that shows that young people are increasingly using contraceptives when they’re having sex,” said Elizabeth Finley, director of strategic communications for SHIFT NC (Sexual Health Initiatives for Teens), a statewide nonprofit that works with local government agencies and other nonprofit groups.

Use of contraceptives and abstention from sex have had “a profound impact on teen pregnancy and the teen birth rate,” Finley said.

“Young people are a bit more risk-averse than in previous years,” Finley said. The reasons are many, among them economic insecurity, and fears about the dangers from the internet, she said. “That combination of things you’re seeing pays off in less sex, less drinking, and less drug use,” Finley said.

Staying in school

Durham County’s Department of Public Health opened a clinic from 3 to 7 p.m. Tuesdays so that teens can receive contraceptives and family-planning education without having to miss school, said Hattie Wood, director of community health and nursing for Durham Health Department. The department also runs three outreach programs – Making Proud Choices, Parents Matter and Focus – which reach about 200 people annually, Wood said.

Programs in the schools, which extend from fifth grade (with parents’ permission) through high school, reach some 3,000 students, Wood said.

Teen pregnancy programs still need increased funding to provide low-cost or free birth control for teens, Wood said. More accessible times for teenagers to get access to family planning also would help, she said.

Orange County’s Department of Social Services operates the Adolescent Parenting Program, part of the N.C. Division of Public Health’s teen pregnancy programs, which helps teen moms avoid a repeat pregnancy to allow them to finish school.

“Our goal is to rally the entire support system to help you stay in school,” said Nancy Coston, director of the Orange County Department of Social Services. The program provides education in parenting and child care, along with support groups.

“The real goal is for the family to delay having any more children until [the mother] finishes high school,” Coston said. Education offers these mothers a better chance to “launch into a successful, independent life,” Coston said.

The state report cited several programs of the Division of Public Health, as well as SHIFT NC, that are helping decrease teen pregnancies. Orange County also participates in the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program, which provides education about pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, and support for academic achievement. Other state pregnancy prevention programs are Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) and Redefining & Empowering Adolescents and Community Health (REACH).

Repeat births

The number of teenage women having repeat births declined 30 percent, from a 1996 rate of 22.5 births per 1,000 to 15.7 per 1,000 in 2015. Durham had a 22.8 percent drop in the rate of repeat births.

From 1996 to 2000, Durham had 1,811 teen births, 396 of which were repeats, or 21.9 percent. From 2011 to 2015, Durham had 1,241 teen births, of which 210 were repeat births, or 16.9 percent.

Orange County had 425 teen births from 1996 to 2000, of which 84 were repeat, or 19.8 percent. From 2011 to 2015, Orange County had 224 teen births, of which 25 were repeat, or 11.2 percent. The change gave Orange County a 43.4 percent decrease in repeat teen births for the period.

Teen birth rates declined for all races and ethnic groups for the 1996-2015 period, with all groups having declines of more than 50 percent, the report stated. Hispanic teenagers had the largest decline, down 66.5 percent.

Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744, @CliffBellamy1