The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has announced that Berkshire County’s teen birth rate for 2014 is 12.4 births/1,000 15-19 year old females, a decline of over 54% percent from 2009 to 2014. Pittsfield and North Adams experienced the greatest reductions in the teen birth rate with a 57% and 63% reduction respectively. For comparison, the state teen birth rate has declined 46% during the same period, and both the state and Berkshire County rates are below the national rate of 26.5%.
As a local leader in positive youth development, Berkshire United Way formed Face the Facts: Reduce Teen Pregnancy in 2010 with goals of ensuring access to comprehensive, evidence-based sex education in and out of school, increasing access to reproductive health services and supporting communication between teens and parents so that youth have the information they need to make healthy choices. Perhaps most important, the community needs to guide young people in developing aspirations for their future.
“We’re incredibly proud to see such a significant reduction in the teen birth rate across Berkshire County. Our leadership and collaborative approach to address significant community conditions has led to the creation of coalitions like Face the Facts, which has mobilized health and human service organizations, schools, and community advocates to commit to bringing down what was an unacceptable teen birth rate when we first considered this issue in 2007,” said Kristine Hazzard, President and CEO, Berkshire United Way.
“As thrilled as we are with these measurable results, there is still more to be done,” she continued. “The decline in the rate is fantastic, but Berkshire County is still above the state average. When you consider that there were 57 teen births countywide in 2014, including 37 teen births in Pittsfield, 13 in North Adams, 5 in Adams, and 6 across seven other Berkshire County towns – it’s startling. With school systems slashing health education budgets across the county, it’s important that we educate parents, caregivers, community providers, and other caring adults to be a resource for our youth when they have questions about sexual health and relationships.”
Face the Facts has trained over 50 youth workers in Let’s Be Honest, a series of eight workshops that provide parents the opportunity to learn new strategies for talking to their kids about puberty, reproductive health, relationships, and their goals for their children’s futures. In addition, the coalition has partnered with Tapestry Health, which has locations in Pittsfield and North Adams, to provide teens confidential access to medical exams, long acting, reversible forms of birth control, as well as testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections, all at a low-cost or, in many cases, free of charge.
Berkshire Youth Development Project, of which Berkshire United Way is a member, administers the Prevention Needs Assessment Survey (PNAS) every two years to 8th, 10th, and 12th grade public school students throughout the County. The February 2015 PNAS results included youth self-reporting that less than 1% of sexually active teens use an IUD – the most effective form of birth control – and 10% were not using any form of contraception. With 65.5% of Berkshire County high school seniors reporting that they are sexually active – and 7.7% noting they had a positive pregnancy test in the past– it’s clear that the need for comprehensive, evidence based health and wellness education is needed. One of Face the Fact’s goals is to ensure that this is in place in all schools throughout Berkshire County by 2017.