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W.Va.'s teen birth rate down, Kids Count data says

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CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Fewer West Virginia teenagers had babies in 2010 than in 2009, but the state still ranks among the 10 highest in the country for children born to teenage mothers, according to a study released to Tuesday from Kids Count West Virginia.

The teen birth rate for West Virginia and the nation had been on the decrease for decades until 2006 and 2007, when both rates increased. In 2008, the national rate declined again, while West Virginia's rate continued to increase.

But the latest data shows that in 2010, West Virginia's teen birth rate fell to 45 births per 1,000 teenage girls. That's down from 50 births per 1,000 teenagers in 2009.

Officials are hopeful, but they aren't sure what to make of the decline.

"You don't know if it's a trend or just a one-year oddity," said Margie Hale, executive director of West Virginia Kids Count.

At 45 per 1,000 teenage girls, West Virginia's teen birth rate is still higher than the national rate of 34. The state ranks 40th for teen births, according to Kids Count.

One in seven teenage girls in West Virginia will have a baby. One in eight babies in the state is born to a teenager, according to Kids Count.

West Virginia needs comprehensive sex education to lower the teen birth rate, Hale said.

"What I found out is that comprehensive sex education is a known preventative strategy and the department of education has this fantastic sex education curriculum from fifth grade to twelfth ... the problem is that a lot of schools aren't implementing it because of the fear of talking about sex," Hale said.

That attitude is not helping decrease the rate of teen births, she said. Everyone can do something to change that attitude, she said.

"All of us need to pitch in," Hale said. "We all have a role."

It's also important that teenagers have a vision of their futures, she said.

Teen births have consequences, Hale said. One in three girls cites pregnancy as her reason for dropping out of high school, according to Kids Count. Babies born to teenage mothers who never married and didn't graduate high school are also more likely to be poor and unhealthy.

West Virginia had an overall ranking of 39th in the nation for the well being of its children. The ranking takes into account the percent of low birth-weight babies, infant mortality and child death rates, children in poverty, percentage of teens who are high school dropouts, percent of teens not attending school or working and others. Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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