MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Even as the statewide rate falls, the number of teenagers giving birth in McDowell County is soaring, jumping 34 percent in five years.
The 2012 West Virginia KIDS COUNT report released Tuesday shows a rate in McDowell of 96 births per 1,000 girls in 2010, the latest figures available. That's 17 more births per 1,000 girls than the next-closest county, Mingo, and more than double the statewide rate.
McDowell's rate also is seven times higher than the county with the fewest teen births: In Monongalia, it's just 14 per 1,000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19.
The figures are alarming, said KIDS COUNT Executive Director Margie Hale, because teenagers who get pregnant are likely to drop out of school and live in poverty. Their children are at higher risk of being born underweight and dying before their first birthday. Experts say they're also less likely to get the intellectual and emotional stimulation needed for healthy development.
Overall, though, the report shows a positive trend: The statewide teen birth rate fell in 2010, as did the national rate. However, West Virginia still ranks among the 10 worst states, with 45 births per 1,000 teens, compared to a national rate of 34.
Hale said it's time for communities, parents and educators alike to ensure that a comprehensive sex-education curriculum approved and mandated by the state Department of Education in 2003 is actually being taught. She said there's no solid data to show that it is.
The program for fifth- through 12-graders is "fantastic,'' Hale said Monday, largely focusing on self-esteem, decision-making, what to expect from boys and how to say no, and how to avoid risky behaviors, such as drug use. Birth-control methods are just one component.
"Many schools are not implementing it because the teacher's not comfortable or the community doesn't want them to or the principal doesn't want them to,'' Hale said.
Although she can understand a teacher's reluctance to discuss sex, Hale said the state has specialists to help.
The Department of Education provides a curriculum framework and health-education standards, but spokeswoman Liza Cordeiro said it's up to counties and schools to decide how to implement the "services and environmental strategies'' to achieve a comprehensive sex education.
Cordeiro said she did not how many schools are using the state's curriculum or if McDowell County schools are among them.
McDowell Superintendent Nelson Spencer wouldn't comment.