Our Opinion: Teen birth rate decline is welcome Berkshire news

The continuing decline of the teen birth rate in Berkshire County is good news, and a tribute to the agencies that have confronted this stubborn problem.

According to statistics released by the Massachusetts Department of Health, teen births in the Berkshires dropped from 57 in 2014 to 41 in 2015, the most recent year in which numbers are available (Eagle, April 16.) In the first decade of the century, teen birth rates were as high as three times the state average, with the numbers disproportionately high in North Berkshire County. In 2015, 17 of the births were to Pittsfield teens and 10 to teens from North Adams.

In 2010, local agencies, including the Berkshire United Way and Tapestry Health, launched a campaign called Face the Facts that teaches family planning to teenagers. And since 2010, teen births have dropped 52 percent countywide — evidence that educating our young people through such campaigns may be having an impact. That campaign was designed to reach out not to just to teenagers but to parents and teachers as well. Traditional methods like workshops and individual counseling were employed, but the agencies also reached out through social media, including YouTube video. Katrina Mattson, the manager of Tapestry Health in Berkshire County, which has been active in the high schools with visits and the establishment of information booths, told The Eagle that it appears more young people are using birth control or abstaining from sex.

Studies have long shown that a teen mother is likely to interrupt her educational career and rarely resume it. This puts her at a significant disadvantage in making a successful climb up the job ladder and increases the likelihood that she will require government assistance, which puts a strain on the local and state economy. Berkshire United Way President and CEO Kristine Hazzard also noted in The Eagle that the health of the child can be adversely impacted in being raised by a single mother. Family support may be lacking along with financial support.

The agencies will continue to do their good work, and much of what any social service organization accomplishes is linked to funding. The Berkshire United Way is funded through contributions from businesses, foundations and individuals, as is Tapestry Health. Tapestry is also funded by state and federal grants, but the future of the Title X Family Planning Federal Grant Program is in doubt as Washington, D.C. goes through its budget process.

The costs of programs that help lower the teen birth rate are returned when young women become job-holders and contributors to the economy and don't require state aid. As they go forward, the Berkshires' stubborn teen birth rate problem will become an issue of the past.


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