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Tackling Teen Pregnancy: Richfield Works to Reduce Rates

Richfield tries to reduce its significant teen pregnancy rate.

It's commonly coined, "children having children" and the instance of teens giving birth in Richfield continues to be extensively examined. While the rates are still high, Richfield officials said there is some evidence the rates are going down after the implementation of special programs.

"Brooklyn Center and Richfield had the highest teen birth rates outside of the city of Minneapolis and in fact, they might even have higher birth rates," said Brigid Riley, director of the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting

Her conclusions are based on a report provided by Hennepin County's Strategic Initiatives & Community Engagement, listing data collected in 2007. The report indicated that Richfield had 46.3 births per 1,000 females ages 15-19, while Minneapolis had 53.0 births and Brooklyn Center had 60.4 births per 1,000.

The numbers were shared with city and school officials in Richfield and Brooklyn Center, and their response has included the implementation of the county-funded Teen Pregnancy Prevention Pilot Project, which is designed to address risk factors related to teen pregnancy occurring in each respective community.

"There's a lot of risk factors for teen pregnancy,"said Katherine Meerse, director of Hennepin County's It's Your Future Project. "I think you see some of the important ones that we see in Richfield, and in Brooklyn Center, and in Minneapolis, include poverty, include some higher rates of drug and alcohol use among young people."

The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Pilot Project started in June of 2007 with Phase One of the project. Phase One included conducting interviews with adults who work with youth in Richfield and asking about opportunities to expand or enhance the quality of sex education, access to family planning and youth development in their communities.

Soon after, the Reduce the Risk (RTR) program began at (RHS) in 2008, which started sex education courses in ninth- and 10th-grade biology and evaluating the effectiveness of the program at the same time.

RTR teaches teens about abstinence, effective ways to refuse or delay sex, different methods of birth control and their proper use, as well as HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention. RTR also evaluates student attitudes about sex before and after the program.

RTR has been praised by Richfield School District Superintendent Bob Slotterback, who said, "it's not your parents' sex education."

Pam Johnson, a biology teacher at RHS, said students seem to be more willing to have open conversations about what they understand about pregnancy and STD prevention in class and with teachers as a result of the program.

"We hope this translates into students having the ability to have these open and honest conversations with their boyfriend [or] girlfriends, friends and family," Johnson said.

Current programs include: An RTR curriculum, the Teen Outreach Program (a service learning program), Planned Parenthood Spanish-speaking programming and the Love U 2 healthy relationships curriculum, which is run by *The Storefront Group, to help middle and high school students develop healthy relationships.

As far as the effectiveness of the programs, Meerse said it is someone difficult to tell in terms of hard statistics.

"You really have to spend a lot of money and do randomized, controlled studies and that kind of thing," she said. "But we are doing programming that we know has been shown to reduce teen pregnancy or to impact the behaviors that cause teen pregnancy."

Meerse said overall teen pregnancy in Minnesota and nationwide has declined since the 1990's due to the fact that much more is known about what works to prevent teen pregnancy, based on research that began in the 1960's.

Johnson said she's observed a difference since the implementation of the Richfield programs.

"Some kids in our program are talking to their parents about sex, which is a huge protective factor, and we know we're increasing knowledge ... We know that we're changing attitudes so that the young people are more positive about abstaining from sex or about using birth control, if they do engage in sexual activity," she said.

Riley added that parents play a very critical role in preventing teen pregnancy, though are not always equipped to do a good job with teaching teens about sex.

"We know what a big difference they make, which is why they're one of the main parts of this project," she said.

However, Riley added that while parents play and important role, it's important to reach them on as many levels as possible.

"Trying to reach them through school and after-school programs is another way of trying to catch some of those kids whose parents don't step up to the plate," she said.

The project continues in Phase Two, which continues program evaluations and the continuation of the current programs. Richfield Patch will continue to cover this issue as more studies and information is released in the future.

Kay Nelson April 25, 2011 at 01:11 PM
I am happy that Richfield Schools are addressing this problem. Education at puberty (or even before) is crucial for young people as well as discussions of birth control. Paging back in my old Psych book, "Sex is part of life . . . Sexual motivation also satisfies social needs for belongingness and love . . ." Herein lies a big part of the problem. Take a look at our social media: sex is glamorized everywhere and consequences of the "glamour" are never addressed. Keep up the good work with the RTR program. Kay Nelson
Caitlin Burgess (Editor) April 25, 2011 at 10:24 PM
Thanks for commenting Kay. Word has it that more statistics surrounding this topic should be released by the end of April or early May, so we'll be looking into that. Thanks again!

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