State teen birth-rate study may hide problem areas

LYNN – A Boston watchdog group claims a state study released this week that shows a record-breaking decline in teen birth rates statewide is flawed because it fails to point out excessively high rates that still exist in some communities like Lynn.According to the Boston-based Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, the study by the state Department of Public Health (DPH) paints a rosy picture of record-low teen births rates, but does not clearly note that teen birth rates from 2004 to 2005 actually increased in 12 of 25 communities surveyed.Patricia Quinn, senior director of policy for the Alliance, acknowledged that the overall teen birth rate in Massachusetts is 21.7 percent per 1,000 teenage girls, which is the lowest ever reported, and 46 percent below the national average.However, the numbers can hide the prevailing situation in some cities and towns that are still struggling with teen birth rates that are more than double or triple the statewide rate, Quinn said.Among those trouble cities are Holyoke, Chelsea, Lawrence and Springfield, all of which have birth rates that are more than 200 percent higher than the state rate, she said.”Clearly, Massachusetts needs to invest resources in communities experiencing troubling increases,” said Susan Lovelace, the Alliance executive director. “Young people in communities struggling with poverty and limited supports need programs that promote their perceptions of opportunity. Access to information about sexuality and access to contraception for sexually-active youth are critical, but without hope for a bright future, teens are at risk.”In Lynn, statistics for 2004 showed that 135 babies were born to mothers between the ages of 15 and 19, or 45.2 percent. In Revere, 42 babies were born to mothers in that age group, for a 34.6 percent rating. Both percentages are far above the new state average of 21.7.However, the teen birth rates in both Lynn and Revere decreased slightly from 2003, when they were 48.5 and 41.2 percent, respectively.Lovelace said the state’s investment in preventing teen pregnancy has contributed to significant declines in the teen birth rate, which saves taxpayers an estimated $100 million annually. She also noted that the $3 million in funding for teen pregnancy prevention appropriated in fiscal year 2007 is significantly below the $5.5 million made available in fiscal year 2001.

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