Teenage birth rate on rise; Town ranked 4th on statewide list.
Southbridge's teenage birth rate was fourth highest in the state, and Fitchburg, Leominster and Worcester made the top 20, according to the state Department of Public Health report about births in 2007.
Southbridge's birth rate was 77.1 per 1,000 females ages 15 to 19. It was an increase from 64.5 in 2006. Southbridge had 43 teen births in 2007, according to the report.
Fitchburg's rate was 45.4, 13th highest in the state, dropping from 58.2 in 2006. The city had 71 teenagers give birth in 2007.
Leominster's rate of 36.7 was 16th, an increase from 30.3 in 2006. The city had 46 teenagers give birth in 2007.
Worcester's rate of 35.7 was 17th, with a total of 251 teens giving birth in 2007. It was relatively unchanged from 34.4 in 2006.
Ahead of Southbridge were Holyoke, at 95.4; Springfield, 84.3, and Chelsea, 82.
Patricia Quinn, executive director of the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, said these communities historically have the highest rates, and 20 of the top 25 communities saw an increase from 2006.
The 2007 teen birth rate in Massachusetts was 22 per 1,000 women. The United States 2006 birth rate was 41.9 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19, the report said.
Statewide, there were 4,944 births among residents ages 15 to 19, an increase of 222 from 2006.
To reduce the rates, young people need comprehensive sexuality information, confidential access to condoms and other contraceptives and the perception of opportunity as motivation to delay sexual activity and parenting, Ms. Quinn said.
"We feel challenged to even provide the first thing in our state due to resources and cultural difficulty in addressing adolescent sexuality," she said.
"We're not, in my view, adequately providing to every young person in our state even what would seem to be the most straightforward piece, which is access to comprehensive sex ed," Ms. Quinn continued.
State Rep. Geraldo Alicea, D-Charlton, said Southbridge had been receiving $50,000 for teen pregnancy prevention, but it dropped to $25,000 this fiscal year.
Gov. Deval L. Patrick recommended another $25,000 for Southbridge in fiscal 2010, which starts July 1The House of Representatives and Senate have not completed budget recommendations.
It hasn't been from lack of trying that Southbridge's rate remains high, school Superintendent Dale M. Hanley said.
The district gets federal funding of $20,000 to $27,000 each year for the Drug Free Communities Support Program. A portion of it is for upper elementary, middle school and ninth-graders at the high school to cover awareness and consequences of risky behavior.
Some evenings are devoted to bringing parents in to talk about teen pregnancy, Ms. Hanley said, and the district has summer programs for young girls and women.
Some students drop out when they become pregnant. She said the statistics weren't readily known to her. "We encourage them to stay in school as long as they can," she said. "Some do... Some leave the country."
Fitchburg Superintendent Andre Ravenelle said his district's affiliations with local nonprofits like LUK Inc. (Let Us Know) were important. LUK conducted a youth at-risk behavior survey of Fitchburg, Leominster and 12 other local districts.
"Teen pregnancy, like the other areas in the youth risk behavior survey, are community problems," said Leominster Superintendent Nadine B. Binkley, adding her district has reached out to athletic programs, the Spanish American Center and other groups.
Mr. Ravenelle said the teen birth rate was interrelated to his district's work with the Community Health Center on creating a school-based health center at Fitchburg High School by September 2011. It will be fully staffed and offer support the schools aren't able to provide now, he said.
Mr. Ravenelle said teenage girls who get pregnant tend to remain in school because of Fitchburg's alternative school, whose hours are 2 to 9 p.m.
Leominster also received a state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education grant for $9,150 to look at teen pregnancy and related topics. A high school social worker, guidance counselor and health teacher, and two assistant principals at the middle school will be trained to construct a plan carried out through various classes, she said.
Meanwhile, the state report said there were no significant changes in teen birth rates by race and ethnicity compared with 2006.
But it noted the teen birth rate for Hispanics, at 70.9 per 1,000 women ages 15 to 19, was more than five times higher than for whites, 13.3 per 1,000 women.
Compared to other states, Massachusetts has one of the largest disparities between whites and Hispanics regarding teen birth rates. For whites and Asians it increased from 2006 and 2007, while it declined for Latinos and blacks, Ms. Quinn said.
She said it would be awhile before the state could provide rates by race and ethnicities for each community.
PHOTOG: T&G Staff/STACY ARSENAULT
CUTLINE: Trends in teen births