Yuba-Sutter teen births declining but still higher than state average
Rates based on births per 1,000 girls age 15-19
2007 2008 2009
Sutter 38.3 35.1 34.0
Yuba 45.9 40.8 39.0
Number of teen births
2007 2008 2009
Sutter 143 136 136
Yuba 149 134 131
A 14-year-old girl who recently came to Harmony Health Family Resource Center had a newborn, an angry mother and a request: Can I get birth control?
Rachel Farrell, who runs the not-for-profit health clinic in Linda, said the girl's mom didn't see the need, because her daughter wouldn't be leaving the house again.
"But she's going to school still, and she's obviously already been sexually active," Farrell said.
A lack of communication between parents and their teen children could be one reason why teen birth rates in the Yuba-Sutter region have remained higher than the state's, which dropped to an all-time low in recent years.
Though the numbers in Yuba-Sutter have also dropped in recent years, in both counties the rate per 1,000 births is above the state figure of 32.1 for girls 15 to 19 years old.
Sutter County's rate was 34 in 2009, down from 38.3 in 2007. In Yuba County, the rate went from 45.9 to 39.0 from 2007 to 2009.
The state's Adolescent Family Life Program and others are being credited, in part, with helping slow the rate of teen births in California to the all-time low, which reflects a national record low.
"If you can prevent a second pregnancy from occurring within two years of the first, the likelihood of a mother finishing high school is much better," said Catherine Camacho, deputy director of the state public health department's Center for Family Health.
State health officials attribute the decline to better use of contraception among boys and girls, more teens delaying first sexual experiences and local programs that target teens by age, ethnicity, race and income levels.
Farrell said progress has come also because program managers and officials have rejected the abstinence-only programs necessary to receive federal funding.
But Becky Reimers, executive director of A Woman's Friend Pregnancy Resource Clinic in Marysville, said preaching abstinence has made a positive impact.
"It has a lot to do with teens taking more responsibility than they did 10 years ago," said Reimers, whose group makes visits advocating abstinence at six to 10 schools annually in Yuba, Sutter and Colusa counties.
"We do surveys before and after the program, and the attitudes really change. The teens really want to practice abstinence," she said.
The state's teen birth rate of 32.1 per 1,000 females in 2009, age 15 to 19, is half of what it was 1991 when the figure peaked at 70.9, and also less than the national rate of 41.5.
Farrell said Yuba-Sutter may have higher rates because its economy is weaker than other parts of the state. Of the counties with enough data for tracking, Nevada County, at 8.7 per 1,000 teen births, led the state in 2009, followed by Marin, at 10.3.
"Low economy equals low education, and low education equals risky behavior," Farrell said.
Public debate on sexual education in schools has grown heated over the years, but it is effective to empower students to make smart choices, said Camacho, noting that California is the only state that has consistently not taken federal abstinence-only funding.
That doesn't mean students aren't taught about abstinence in California, only that the state didn't agree to take money for making it its sole approach. Abstinence is typically a focus for health education in younger teens, and older students are given information on how to prevent pregnancy if they become sexually active.
Latinas make up the vast majority of teen moms, with 72.9 percent of such births. Most of those mothers, 71 percent, are born in the U.S.
In part, that may be because Latinas tend to be less likely to have abortions and it seems more accepted in Hispanic cultures to have the child, according to Los Angeles County health chief Dr. Jonathan Fielding.
As Reimers and Farrell had differing opinions about why the numbers of teen births are higher in Yuba-Sutter, they also split on the best way to bring them down further.
Reimers, whose programs are free, said she'd like to go to more schools to discuss abstinence.
And Farrell, who is part of a teen pregnancy prevention task force, said programs have to focus on communication between parents and teens, as well as mentorship, education, small-group discussions and even field trips to show teens what's possible.
"They're feeling unskilled and like they don't have much of a future," said Farrell, who's part of an application for up to $175,000 in grants to address the issue. "You have to show them what's out there."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.