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District Targets Teen Pregnancy with Family Planning

November 12, 2013

The Northeast Health District considers family planning one of its top public health priorities. It is the third most common reason clients visit health departments throughout the district, after immunizations and Women, Infants and Children (WIC) services.

Ryan Melton, Shirley Aaron and Holly Cirri spread the word about Parent Talk, the Northeast Health District's program to encourage parents to talk with their children about sex.

The district’s family planning program emphasizes spacing of births and having children when they are wanted. One of its main goals is to prevent teen pregnancies.

“There is nothing we do in public health that is more important or more effective than family planning,” said Northeast District Health Director Claude Burnett, M.D.

So far, their efforts have been successful. The district estimates that its family planning program has prevented 15,225 pregnancies, including 5,639 teen pregnancies, in the last five years, saving $106 million in hospital delivery and neonatal costs and $39 million in associated costs.

It wasn’t very long ago that Georgia had the highest teen pregnancy rate in the nation. In 2011, the U.S. teen birth rate was 31.3 births per 1,000 girls ages 15-19, one of the highest rates in the developed world. But in Georgia that rate was 37.9 and in Athens-Clarke County, it was 48, not including students from the University of Georgia. That rate is six times higher than the teen birth rate in western Europe.

Additionally, surveys of teens in the Northeast Health District show that teens become more sexually active as they move through high school, from 25 percent as freshman to 65 percent as seniors in each of the district’s counties. 

Although teen birth rates remain high in the Northeast Health District, they have declined by half over the past 20 years due to intensive teen pregnancy prevention efforts by the district and its community partners.

For its family planning program, the District has a policy of “any service any time.” It prioritizes treatment for teens, and clinics keep late operating hours at least once a week to make services available when people need them. All public health nurses at every clinic in the district are trained to provide basic birth control services. 

It takes a special effort to reach teens, so the district has trained health educators who are available to answer students' questions in person and by text messages, as well as provide comprehensive sex and health education in several high schools.

The District operates six teen clinics in five counties, called Teen Matters. These clinics provide free or low-cost confidential health services for youth ages 11-19, including health education, birth control and testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections. The Teen Matters clinics, along with the district’s health departments, provide services to more than 3,500 teens every year.

The district also advocates for comprehensive sex education for teens, including lessons that come from parents and schools. The district developed a program for parents, “Talking the Birds and Bees” or “Parent Talk,” which aims to increase communication between parents and children about sex. The district’s boards of health have also worked with counties’ boards of education, parents and community organizations to get several schools systems to adopt sex education programs.

The Clarke County School District began implementing the Family Life and Sexual Health (FLASH) curriculum during the 2008- 2009 school year after community meetings and formal approval from its Board of Education. FLASH, a free program maintained by King County Public Health in Seattle, is an abstinence-based program that includes medically accurate information about sexually transmitted infections and contraception. The positive response from teachers, parents and students in Clarke County helped district staff succeed in getting the curriculum adopted in two other counties.