If you’re a regular reader of the Berkshire Eagle, you’re probably familiar with the positive progress Face the Facts: reduce teen pregnancy, a Berkshire United Way led coalition, has made in reducing the teen birth rate in Berkshire County.
Significant declines in North Adams and Pittsfield were particularly good news for the coalition, which has targeted much of its efforts in those two communities. In Pittsfield, teen births dropped nearly 50% between 2014 and 2015— the most recent year for which data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health is available—while North Adams experienced a 30% decrease in the teen birth rate.
Highlights of Face the Facts’ collaborative efforts to reduce the teen birth rate include:
· Providing “Let’s Be Honest” workshops, reaching 588 parents/caregivers. This is a free, interactive workshop that provides parents with age-appropriate strategies for responding to their children’s hard to answer questions as well as techniques for talking about sexuality in a
skilled and comfortable manner. Teens who report having positive conversations with their parents about sex are more likely to delay sex, have fewer partners, and use a form of birth control when they do have sex.
· Providing professional development training for 70 teachers and youth workers, so they are better prepared to provide middle and high school students with evidence-based sexuality education.
· A comprehensive marketing campaign that strives to increase community awareness on long acting reversible contraception and bust myths around birth control. We have run a series of ads on Pandora, a music streaming service commonly used by Berkshire County youth. More
than 9,000 young people between the ages of 13 and 21 listened to the ads in our last campaign. Over 2,000 of them clicked through the ad to learn more about birth control and where they can access it locally and affordably.
· A key partner in Face the Facts is Tapestry, the local provider of free or low-cost, confidential reproductive healthcare. When asked how their partnership with Berkshire United Way helps achieve the shared goal of reducing the teen birth rate in Berkshire County, Tapestry’s
Health Services Manager, Katrina Matson, says, “Tapestry is committed to providing reproductive healthcare regardless of age, race, gender, sexual orientation or income, striving to provide a safe space that is free of judgment or stigma. Berkshire United Way has given us the
opportunity to engage with 18-19-year-old teens, who are no longer in school, about our services.”
Berkshire United Way has included maps depicting Tapestry locations on posters the coalition has developed, facilitated Tapestry’s entrance into local high schools and colleges for “tabling” initiatives and co-branded the coalition’s billboard campaigns with Tapestry’s logo and
contact information. In addition, social media campaigns and public service announcements, created by Berkshire United Way, direct people to Tapestry for services.
· These efforts play a crucial role in addressing youth high risk behaviors. Every two years, Berkshire United Way collaborates with community partners to administer a survey among all Berkshire County students in grades 8, 10 and 12. From this survey, we know that 19.8% of
eighth grade students are sexually active— that number increases to 51.4% as students reach 12th grade.
With more than half of twelfth graders sexually active, your child is most likely being exposed to this culture. A teen pregnancy can derail the aspirations and educational attainment of young parents, while children born to teen parents are far more likely to live in poverty and struggle academically. One of Berkshire United Way’s community goals is support efforts to continue the steady increase in the high school graduation rate, which is negatively impacted by teen pregnancy.
In conjunction with this month’s youth-themed Third Thursday event, and in recognition of the National Month to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, the Face the Facts coalition will host an event during May’s Third Thursday to celebrate the significant success the county has achieved.
The collaborative efforts of our partners throughout the county have demonstrated positive progress, and were made possible through the generous support of our local donors and area foundations. When teen pregnancy rates go down, opportunities go up. We hope you will consider how you can give, advocate or volunteer to make a difference in our local community. For opportunities to do so please visit berkshireuniteway.org.