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Young women in San Benito County fare better than their counterparts in neighboring Monterey, Merced and Fresno counties when it comes to becoming a teenaged mother. Recent data from the California Department of Public Health shows that San Benito County teens between the ages of 15 and 19 have reduced the rate of live births from 27.8 (per 1,000 births) in 2011 to 21.6 in 2012, the most recent data available. The rates in neighboring counties all exceed 37 teen births per 1,000 live births. 

The decrease in San Benito County indicates that young women are either abstaining from sexual activity until they are older or choosing to use effective forms of birth control, both positive developments from a public health standpoint. According to San Benito County Director of Public Health Nursing, Lynn Mello, RN, BSN, PHN, lowering teen birth rates is good for the whole community becasue of the social costs associated with young and inexperienced parents.

“When I worked in Public Health/Maternal, Child and Adolescent Health (MCAH) here in San Benito County in the 90s and early 2000s, we worked collaboratively with the small network of medical providers who could address reproductive health issues,” Mello said.   

“The Family Pact program, http://www.familypact.org/  a State program that came on the scene around that time allowed health care providers to offer and bill for contraceptive services.  We worked with Federally Qualified Health Centers to include the Hazel Hawkins Clinics, The San Benito Health Foundation, Schools, Law Enforcement (particularly Juvenile Probation) and Behavioral Health to increase awareness about Family Pact and we partnered with Planned Parenthood Mar Monte to expand their services to San Benito County as well.  Planned Parenthood started out with a mobile clinic in San Benito County providing HOPE (hormonal oral contraceptives with deferred pelvic exam, but with a Registered Nurse physical assessment) making access to contraceptives more available to hard-to-reach populations and eventually, they established a clinic here.  For the past 20 years, the MCAH program has gathered data, developed goals and objectives, developed partnerships and collaboratives and have implemented strategies to reduce teen birth rates and subsequent births to teens.  Public Health/MCAH continues this approach in reproductive health education through their relationships with health care providers, with the County Office of Education, the Youth Alliance, the YMCA, informal non-traditional classes done by Health Educators, and in group and one-on-one individual sessions conducted by Public Health Nurses.”

 Women who wait to have children are more likely to finish high school, less likely to rely on public assistance, less likely to be poor as adults, and more likely to have children with better health and behavioral outcomes, she added. Teen births are of concern for the health outcomes of both the mother and the child. Pregnancy and delivery can be harmful to teenagers’ health, as well as social and educational development. Babies born to teen mothers are more likely to be born preterm and/or low birth weight. Responsible sexual behavior reduces unintended pregnancies, and thus reduces the number of births to adolescent females. 

Planned Parenthood‘s Hollister office, located in the San Benito Health Center also offers educational materials and counselling for young women, including pregnancy testing, adoption referrals, fertility awareness education, pregnancy planning services, and trained staff to discuss options for pregnant women. 

Another important aspect of local programs aimed at raising awareness is including young men in the conversation. On its blog, the Hollister Pregnancy Center lists questions “every guy should ask himself before having sex.”

– If your girlfriend became pregnant would you stay with her?
– Will you go with your girlfriend to tell her parents the news?
– Are you willing to get married to give your child a two-parent home?
– Can you financially provide for a child with for the next 18 years?
– Will you invest time and energy into being a good father?
– Would you be willing to release your child for an adoption?
– Are you willing to support your girlfriend through the grief of abortion, which may last for months or years?

Such exercises encourage many teens to slow down and think about the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy. For many teens, having a confidential place to go for information about birth control and advice is beneficial.

“Clients who enter the doors of Hollister Pregnancy Center are welcomed by a staff that genuinely cares about their well being,” their website says. “Whether being seen for pregnancy testing, limited obstetrical ultrasound or STD testing, our trained staff is committed to seeing that each client receives the assistance needed. Every client will meet with a caring pregnancy or STD counselor. In a confidential private setting, all issues, questions and concerns will be addressed. Our trained counselors will seek to understand and help to sort through the issues that seem so overwhelming.”  For more information on teen pregnancy and reproductive health, click here