03/06/07 — Teen pregnancies cost counties

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Teen pregnancies cost counties

By Phyllis Moore
Published in News on March 6, 2007 1:59 PM

A national report shows that Wayne County teens giving birth in 2005 cost taxpayers an estimated $7.5 million.

Sudie Davis, director of Communities in Schools in Wayne County and chairperson for the WATCH Teen Pregnancy Task Force, called the figures "mind-boggling."

The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy funded the study, which delved into the public cost of teen childbearing across the country. It was broken down by state as well as county, she said.

"The approximate cost of 326 children born to teens (in Wayne County in 2005) was $7,497,000," she said.

"Everybody in our community is aware of teen pregnancy and the impact that it has, but I think this is an eye-opener when you look at the astronomical cost. When you can look at the cost to Wayne County, that really brings it home."

Between 1991 and 2004, the United States still had the highest teen pregnancy and birth rates in the industrialized world, the report said. More than 400,000 children are born to teen mothers in the U.S. each year, with an estimated 80 percent of them to unmarried mothers.

In North Carolina, there were 13,852 births to teens in 2004. The teen birth rate that year was 48.8 per 1,000 girls ages 15-19, above the national rate of 41.1 per 1,000. Among all states, North Carolina ranks 37th.

Nationally, teens giving birth costs taxpayers at least $9.1 billion a year.

The cost to state taxpayers -- federal, state and local-- was estimated to be at least $312 million in 2004. Broken down, the average annual cost is $1,503 per teen births.

The younger the birth mother, however, the greater the cost. State figures showed the average annual cost associated with a child born to a mother 17 and younger is $3,868.

"It really puts a burden on counties because a lot of that money comes out of the county's budget," Mrs. Davis said. Foster care, social services, and health care are just a few of the costs incurred.

"It's a concern for the Teen Pregnancy Task Force. One of the things that we have recognized is that there are so many factors involved, that there's no direct path toward solving the problem."

Other agencies are also working on the issue, she said. WISH, school-based health centers, and health educators are in several schools. WATCH has one working in the public schools and the Health Department has two in the community and the schools, Mrs. Davis said.

Communities in Schools also offers the Teen Health Corps program in the schools and the Health Department has done much in the way of family planning and education, she added.

"If we didn't have all of that, where would we be?" she asked.

Wayne County has actually seen improvements in recent years. In 2002, it was ranked 29th in the state for teen pregnancy rates. Currently, it is ranked at 26.

"I would have hoped that it would have come down more with the focus that's been done on it for the past two or three years," Mrs. Davis said. "But I really think with the change in views, particularly teens' views, on the initiation of sexual activity, that holding our own is pretty good."

In 2001-02, Wayne County's pregnancy rate was 90.7 per 1,000 15-19-year-old girls giving birth. That number dropped to 78.2 in 2005.

"I think that's very positive for Wayne County but even with that progress, the cost is staggering," Mrs. Davis said.

More alarming is the ranking for neighboring counties, she noted. Lenoir County is ranked fifth in the state for its pregnancy rates, reported at 98.4 per 1,000 for 2005. Greene County is in seventh place, with 95.5 per 1,000, and Duplin County is also ahead of Wayne, with 82.0 per 1,000, and ranked 24th.