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Franklin County works to reduce teen pregnancies

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MALONE - Franklin County Public Health representatives on Thursday introduced a new initiative intended to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, especially among adolescents.

The overall goal of the program, which is being offered in conjunction with New York State Department of Health, is to protect the health of the next generation, Public Health representatives Erin Streiff and Patti McGillicuddy told members of the Franklin County Legislature. One of the ways to achieve that goal is to reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies, Ms. Streiff said.

Franklin County has a higher rate than the state average when is comes to unplanned pregnancy. The state average has been on the decline, but Franklin County is trending upward.

The percentage of unintended pregnancies among live births in 2012 in Franklin County was 36.3 percent. The goal of the New York State Prevention Agenda for 2017 is bring the state average down to 23.8 percent.

Franklin County’s pregnancy rate for women age 15 to 17 years of age has been increasing since roughly 2008. For women ages 18 and 19, it is almost up to one in 10 women getting pregnant, and some are on their second pregnancy, according to Ms. Streiff.

According to Ms. Streiff, some of the consequences of teen pregnancy are high health care and foster care costs. Also, incarceration rates for the children of teen parents are much higher and academic achievement is lower than among children whose parents are older.

“Another consideration by preventing teen pregnancy is that we can potentially increase tax revenue over the course of the generation because these children will have higher educational attainment and be better able to participate in the work force,” said Ms. Streiff.

Ms. Streiff said her office plans to follow the guidelines contained in the New York State Sexual Health Plan. Ms. Streiff said she likes this plan because it incorporates not only public health, but community involvement and education.

A statement from the U.S. National Library of Medicine contained in an information packet the Public Health representatives gave to county lawmakers said, “Knowledge-based programs focus on teaching kids about their bodies. It also provides detailed information about birth control and how to prevent sexually transmitted infections. Research shows knowledge-based programs help decrease teen pregnancy rates. Abstinence-only education without information about birth control does not.”

Schools health classes in which sex education is taught last only a semester and children are not getting the depth of instruction they really need. Ms. Streiff said. Planned Parenthood representatives come into the schools to offer instruction, but they are only there a few days and if the kids are absent at that time, they miss that key component, she said.

Ms. Streiff said the plan calls for an earlier introduction to sex education than children are currently getting. The Public Health representatives want to start in middle school because it is better for the children to know about this before they are ready to start becoming sexually active. By the time they become active, it is to late, according to Ms. Streiff.

“One of the things New York state supports is that we have to reduce the sigma that comes with talking about sexual health,” Ms. McGillicuddy said. “That starts with our leaders. It is not that kids are not having sex; they are not talking to their parents about them having sex. I think the Health Department is the best entity to educate them. Schools are resistant. Someone has to do it,” she said.

Ms. Streiff said they do have a partnership with the schools to be advisors and resources for them, but ultimately it is up to the schools to improve their health classes to address sexual health.

“What we are encouraging is that the schools take this on themselves and take the bull by the horns and we will be there as a support and a resource to them,” said Ms. Streiff.

Ms. Streiff said the plan to reach out to the younger children through a medium they are familiar with — Facebook. The agency plans to create a Facebook page that will offer detailed information about the risks of sexually transmitted infections and adolescent pregnancy. The site will also give prevention options with an emphasis that abstinence is the only guaranteed method to avoid getting pregnant or contracting an STI. It will also debunk myths about pregnancy prevention, and there will be information on how and where to access family planning options.

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