Bringing down the number of young mums

FURTHER proof has emerged that teenage pregnancies is a growing problem in the UK.Here, Debbie Watson reviews some of the measures brought into this region to help control the vast rise in young mums.

By Debbie Watson

FURTHER proof has emerged that teenage pregnancies is a growing problem in the UK.

Here, Debbie Watson reviews some of the measures brought into this region to help control the vast rise in young mums. Have they worked and should we be doing more?

FOR the TV soaps, it's a dramatic ratings winner.

For the schools, it's a complex aspect of an already chock-a-block academic timetable.

And for most parents – well, it's little short of an absolute nightmare.

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Teenage pregnancies are on the rise in the UK and, according to the latest research, those worrying

statistics are showing few signs of slowing down.

Unicef confirmed one of the most topical social fears when it announced that we now rank as the second-placed western country when it comes to teenage birth rates.

Alarmingly, but perhaps not so unexpectedly, the report revealed that some 31 births per 1,000 British girls, aged between 15 and 19, took place in 1998. Our poor record was only beaten by the United States.

Though the statistics may not have come as such a huge surprise to those medical professionals who work with teenage mums here in the UK, it is a reminder that more must be done to start reversing the trend.

Claire Smith is one such professional with a great under-standing of the current youth pregnancy situation.

As lead consultant in family planning and reproductive health, she has responsibility for services throughout Suffolk.

"We've known for some time that the UK has the highest rate of teen pregnancies in western Europe," she said.

"That's exactly why the government introduced a teenage pregnancy strategy and why it

instigated the idea that all areas across the country should have their own teen pregnancy co-ordinator."

Here in Suffolk that role has been filled by Susan Dey for the last two years. During that time a lot of

progressive work took place to make our regional services more accessible and approachable for youngsters.

Indeed, it included very positive steps like a Young People's Sexual Health website.

The post is now vacant again, but that has not stopped the impetus of the countywide service from


Claire said: "The main part of my work is to try to make services more accessible, and we are doing that through an initiative known as ASSIST.

"It means accessible services for teenagers, and through it we are driving toward getting facilities available near all our upper schools across the county.

"It is an important part in educating youngsters about sex and helping them to feel that there are people they can talk to – in the long run it should help reduce these teenage pregnancy statistics."

To date, 12 ASSIST facilities have been started near upper schools across the county, and eight more are due for launch soon. With a total of 37 upper schools across the county, it is clear that the project is well on its way.

Claire added: "My feeling is that whatever we can do to encourage teenagers to seek help and advice, unquestionably is a good thing.

"They need to know that they will not be judged or patronised and that their discussions will be treated in the strictest of confidence."

Clearly, when dealing with young, emotional and anxious youngsters, this may be a hard hurdle to overcome. These youngsters may always fear the judgment and the frowns of elder professionals.

But it's a hurdle that simply must be overcome as Britain has become a more 'sexualised society'.

For a long time we have known that underage sex has been on the increase, that youngsters are

experimenting with sex more, and that pregnancies are now more common for school-aged girls.

Indeed, the average age when British youngsters lose their virginity, has fallen from 20 for men and 21 for women 40 years ago, to17 for both sexes today.

The number of girls having underage sex has also doubled in the last ten years and the latest report on pregnancies appears to confirms this sexual change fully.

As another part of tackling this problem in Suffolk, Claire said that young people can ultimately prove to be a great tool in helping each other.

Currently pilot projects are under way at Thurleston and Chantry High School in Ipswich, using sixth formers to discuss issues with younger pupils and to tell them where they can get help and advice.

"Hopefully, if these schemes prove to be successful, we will see more of them across the country and we may make an important step in driving down teen pregnancies," said Claire.

Another ongoing Suffolk project is being led by Sylvia Burnett as part of a scheme in partnership with Connexions and the health service.

Sylvia has spent time talking to young women as a way of gauging whether or not they might have been less likely to become pregnant if more services and help-facilities were available.

"We've just completed the pilot project by working with a group of 16 to 23-year-old girls who were either pregnant or had children," Sylvia said.

"We've talked to them about their experiences of pregnancy and what might have changed their personal outcome had more people been there to listen to them.

"It's a key way to see what can be done in the future and to see whether there are links between stages in their development, and their subsequent teenage pregnancy."

The scheme began in full at the start of June. Sylvia said she already knows certain areas of Suffolk that need more attention than others.

"There are key wards in Suffolk, and specifically in Ipswich, where we know that teenage pregnancy is higher than the national average," she added.

"Our aim is to focus in on those areas and to communicate with lots of young women to see what changes are needed and what their experiences have been.

"It is not a situation which we can change overnight, but something we feel we are being very proactive about – and hopefully that will make a huge difference to many young peoples' futures in Suffolk."

n Sylvia would like to hear from young Suffolk women who may have had children – or currently be pregnant – about their own experiences of getting helping and advice. You can contact her on 07810 836227.


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