Hampshire County teen birth rate drops, reflecting statewide trend
NORTHAMPTON — Massachusetts health officials announced this month that the teen birth rate is at its lowest ever recorded in the state, tallying up at 50 percent below the national average. Hampshire County numbers reflect the statewide trend, according to the data in a study titled the “Birth Report.”
The state’s Department of Public Health has produced the “Birth Report” annually since 1986, according to spokeswoman Anne Roach.
Statwewide, the number of teen births dropped to 3,907 in 2010, the last year studied, from 4,477 in 2009, a decrease of about 13 percent.
“That’s huge,” said Sarita Rogers, director of home visits for the Children’s Trust Fund of Massachusetts, which funds Healthy Families. Healthy Families, which is based in Boston with local agencies throughout the state, provides free home visits and support for first-time parents 20 and under whose child is less than a year old. Families can remain in the program until the child is 3.
Among the statistics revealed in the Birth Report:
∎ In Hampshire County in 2010, the number of births to teen mothers dropped to 32 from the 56 recorded in both 2009 and 2008;
∎ Between 2009 and 2010, the number of teen births in Easthampton dropped from 6 to 1, in Northampton it dropped from 13 to 6, in Amherst from 5 to 0, and in South Hadley from 8 to 0;
∎ Hampden county saw a similar drop in its rate; 459 in 2010, down from 747 the year before.
∎ While the teen birth rate dropped in Hampshire County between 2009 and 2010, the overall birthrate rose slightly, according to the state.
While the local birth rate has dropped, the number of young families seeking the services of organizations like Healthy Families has increased since last summer, according to program coordinator Elizabeth Dlugosz.
Dlugosz said that until about July of 2012 the organization could go a month or two without receiving a referral request from a new parent. But since then, she said, the group has averaged four per month.
Dlugosz said she can’t be certain if the increase in referrals reflects an increase in teen birth rates since 2010 or if its a matter of more young families being aware of the service.
Dlugosz said local obstetricians and schools often recommend young parents contact Healthy Families for support and services.
The increase may also be due to more teen mothers and young families being funneled toward fewer options as the number of social service agencies that assist that group decreases, according to Rogers. Rogers said local hospitals increased their efforts to refer their pregnant teenage patients to Healthy Families. Rogers believes the drop in the teen birth rate could be attributed to increased education of young mothers, resulting in preventing second or third pregnancies before they turn 20.
Rogers said she believes the work done by the Children’s Trust Fund has helped reduce the teen birth rate. She aims to advocate for level funding from the previous fiscal year to keep providing services to young parents.
“We’ll be waiting on the edge of our seats,” she said.
Families that receive services from Healthy Families also have lower incidents of child abuse, the children are more likely to stay on track developmentally and their parents are more likely to graduate from high school than parents who don’t enroll, according to information provided by Healthy Families.
In 2009, the number of Hampshire County mothers who gave birth was 1,105 compared to 1,169 in 2010, a rise of about 5.8 percent.
According to the report, the overall birth rate in the state to mothers who live in Massachusetts, as opposed to mothers from out of state, also dropped between 2009 and 2010.
In 2009, there were 74,966 births reported statewide. A year later, that number dropped to 72,835, a difference of about 2.9 percent.
Bob Dunn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.