Berkshire County, Massachusetts has one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in the state. In Pittsfield, a local organization kicked off a campaign that intends to raise awareness of this issue.
In a campaign that involves billboards, posters, and the cooperation of numerous community organizations, the Berkshire United Way is launching a comprehensive effort to raise awareness of the startlingly high teen birth rate in the westernmost county of Massachusetts.
Kristine Hazzard, president and CEO of the Berkshire United Way says, “While Masachusetts’ rate has come down 31 percent from ’96 to 2009, Berkshire County’s rate has gone up 18 percent.”
The latest data from the Department of Public Health shows that the birth rate for teen women aged 15 to 19 in Massachusetts currently is 19.5 per 1,000. Berkshire County sits above average with a rate 27.2. But Pittsfield more than doubles the county-wide average at 55.1. In 2009, 13.5 percent of the city’s total births were given by teen mothers.
North Adams has a rate of 51.3 births per 1,000 teen women.
Kristine Hazzard says that there is limited access to care for teens living in rural areas of Berkshire County, which also contributes to the high birth rate.
“There is recent research that shows that while the national rate has come down dramatically, particularly in urban and suburban areas, the rural areas are not coming down as much,” says Hazzard. “They believe that’s because of lack of belief and hope and opportunity,and also a lack of access to reproductive health care for being rural.”
CEO of the Gladys Allen Brigham Community Center in Pittsfield, Kelly Marion, said that her organization will be participating in the campaign by hanging posters and having informational resources available about the facts on how to prevent teen pregnancy but also on how to find and talk to healthcare providers in the area.
Marion, a parent herself, also added that all parents need to take an active role early in educating their children about the realities and consequences of teen pregnancy.
“There is some education in the school and we are appreciative of that, but first and foremost it’s our responsibility,” said Marion.
Mary Nash, project coordinator for the Berkshire Compact for Education, also said that her organization will be taking a role, in driving ambition in students throughout the county by advocating for further education after high school, and by letting children of all backgrounds know that college is accessible to them.
Kristine Hazzard reported that only 30% of adults in Berkshire County have a college degree, and that giving teens a role model and creating a drive to succeed is most important for curbing teen pregnancy.
The public information campaign will continue. A series of billboards targeted toward teens are being displayed throughout the county. A second series targeting parents will follow.
Recent data from New York City shows that its teen pregnancy rate has dropped by 27% over the last 10 years, which city officials are crediting to a state law that allows minors access to contraceptives, and a pilot program which provides Plan B emergency contraceptives to students.
However, controversy is swirling around an ad campaign paid for by Mayor Bloomberg’s administration, which depicts images of forlorn children, sending a message that teen mothers and fathers are more likely to leave their children. Haydee Morales, vice president of education and training at Planned Parenthood, said, “The City’s money would be better spent helping teens access health care, birth control and high-quality sexual and reproductive health education, not an ad campaign intended to create shock value."