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Teenage pregnancy decreases in Stark County

While the number of teenage births in Stark County has been slightly decreasing since 2002 and North Dakota has one of the lowest teenage pregnancy rates in the country, state health professionals say the topic remains a major concern, with gaps in the present sexual education curriculum.

"Just because we're one of the lowest does not mean we're not concerned about it ... because anytime teenagers are having babies, there's a lot of implications for that," said Kim Senn, director of North Dakota Department of Health's Division of Family Health. "We might not have the rates that some of the other states have, we're still very concerned about it as a state."

In 2006, McKenzie County reported nine teenage births, and while 2007 dropped to a not-reportable number -- anything from one to five -- it increased to eight in 2008, according to vital statistics from NDDH. Based on the 2000 Census, McKenzie County's population was estimated at about 5,750 people.

To protect an individual's confidentiality, any county that has five or less teenage pregnancies are not be reported.

Stark County reported 18 teenage births in 2005 and the number dropped to 16 in 2006. In 2007 and 2008, 13 teenage births were reported with the 2000 Census estimating the county population at about 22,650.

Slope County reported no teenage births from 2003 through 2007 and a not-reportable number in 2008, with an estimated population of about 770.

Carrie Decker, of Community Action Partnership's Family Planning section in Dickinson, said though not all are reported, she has noticed a decrease in the number of teen pregnancies.

Decker said while sexual education generally begins in fifth and sixth grade, a stall exists in the years following.

"There is a gap, though, in the education from the sixth grade to the 10th grade," Decker said. "And that gap is the most important one that we're not getting to because that's where the hormones are changing and being inquisitive about it. That's where it all starts and we're missing that age group which it needs to be addressed."

Valerie Fischer, director of Coordinated School Health Programs for North Dakota Department of Public Instruction, said the state has no mandated sexual education programs, but each school district determines content in their health education.

Each district can choose to teach abstinence-only or abstinence-based sexual education, Fischer said.

Melanie Kathrein, director of curriculum and professional development for Dickinson Public Schools, said life skills -- a class covering several topics including stress management, decisions about sexual activity, teen pregnancy, and labor and delivery -- is offered to 10th-grade students at Dickinson High School.

"Abstinence is very much stressed in our curriculum," Kathrein said. "That doesn't mean, though, that they never talk about the other things."

Funding for classes is minimal.

"We have very limited dollars to provide any type of prevention or mentoring programs for adolescents to help prevent the teen pregnancy," Senn said.

Fischer said the state receives no federal funding for teenage pregnancy or sexuality education.

"We have attempted to take before the Legislature a bill which would increase the requirements for health education and we haven't been successful," Fischer said, adding the bill has been presented about three to four times.

At one point, North Dakota received $88,000 in abstinence-only funding, but the funding was zeroed out of the president's budget last year, Senn said.

However, a recently signed health care bill restored those funds.

"We are anticipating that money will come back to the state, but what we don't know is we don't know at what level that funding will be," Senn said.

Decker said abstinence-only funding was geared toward family planning because it covered abstinence to birth control options and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases.

"They found that abstinence-only groups don't work as well as teaching them everything," Decker said. "They (teenagers) do need to know everything and what they do put themselves at risk for."

Area county teenage births

Billings County:

2005-08: Zero

Bowman County:

2005-08: NR

Dunn County:

2005-08: NR

Golden Valley County:

2005 - Zero

2006 - NR

2007-08 - Zero

Hettinger County:

2005-06 - Zero

2007-08 - NR

McKenzie County:

2005 - 8

2006 - 9

2007 - NR

2008 - 8

Slope County:

2005-07 - Zero

2008 - NR

Stark County:

2005 - 18

2006 - 16

2007 - 13

2008 -13

*NR- not-reportable, Any number from one to five