MASON COUNTY — For a mature couple, a pregnancy can be a dream come true, but for an unwed teenage girl it could be potentially destructive.
In 2010, the rate of teen births for girls ages 15-19 for the state of West Virginia was 45 for every 1,000 girls, compared to the rate for the nation which was 34. Out of West Virginia’s 55 counties, Mason County was ranked at 29 with a rate of 47.64. The lowest was Monogalia County with a rate of 14.01 and the highest was McDowell County with a rate of 95.76.
An initiative known as the “West Virginia KIDS COUNT project” has been working for several years gathering data to measure the well-being of children throughout the state and for 2013, the initiative has presented a special data book focusing on the increase of teen pregnancy rates since 2005 for each W.Va. county and its impact on the well-being of children. According to the data book, teen pregnancies across the nation were on the road to decline, but then the state of West Virginia saw another spike in 2006 and the state’s rates began to worsen. The rates did start to decrease again in 2010, but are still among the highest in the nation.
The data book also contained information regarding Mason County on various other aspects regarding the birth of children and teen mothers. One of the most drastic changes in recent years was the infant mortality rate. In 2005, the rate was 4.1 per 1,000 live births and in 2011 the rate was 11.8 per 1,000 live births. The next biggest change was the percent of births to unmarried teens with a rate of 8.6 percent in 2005 and a rate of 10.8 percent in 2011. Other rates that changed for the worse from 2005 to 2011 in Mason County were the percent of children approved for free and reduced price school meals, which was 54.5 percent and increased to 56.2 percent, the percent of low birth weight babies, which went from 9.3 percent to 9.4 percent, and the percent of children born in poverty, which increased from 26.9 percent in to 27.2 percent.
There were also several rates which improved in Mason County over the years, the best being with the child death rate among children one to 14 years old. In 2005, the rate was 18.5 per 100,000 children and in 2011 the rate was 8.8 per 100,000 children, an improvement of 52.4 percent. The next improvement was regarding the child abuse and neglect rate, which was 28.9 per 1,000 children in 2005, and 17.1 percent per 1,000 children in 2011, an improvement of 40.9 percent. Other improving rates from 2005 to 2011 were the teen injury death rate regarding ages 15-19, with 77.4 per 100,000 teens changing to 52.9 per 100,000 teens, the percent of high school dropouts, going from 15.7 percent to 13.6 percent, the percent of four year olds enrolled in pre-kindergarten, going from 68.7 percent to 76.9 percent, the teen birth rate among girls 15-19 years old, which went from 51.1 out of 1,000 girls to 47.6 out of 1,000 girls, and finally the percent of births to mothers with less than a 12th grade education, which decreased from 18.9 percent to 18.6 percent.
According to the data book, one in three girls attributes their pregnancy as the reason she dropped out of high school. It was also stated that the poverty rate for babies who were born to unwed teenage mothers who dropped out of high school is 78 percent, compared to the rate of children who were born to married women over 20 year old and who are high school graduates, which is nine percent. The book also reports that children are also at a higher risk of being born underweight and dying within their first year of life when born to teen mothers and are less likely to receive the emotional and intellectual stimulation needed for healthy development.
“One in 22 teen girls in West Virginia will have a baby,” said Margie Hale, Executive Director of KIDS COUNT. “This is alarming, because we know when teens get pregnant they are much more likely to drop out of school, live in poverty and have babies that are less healthy.”
The book also lists several ways which can help prevent teen pregnancies, including implementing the state’s comprehensive sex education curriculum and helping parents succeed as sex educators in addition to helping other adults in providing information on how to reduce risk-taking behavior and creating community-wide action plans for teen pregnancy prevention.
“It’s up to all of us to work together to reverse the recent trend,” Hale added.
For more information on KIDS COUNT, visit www.wvkidscount.org.