County health dept., other groups taking steps to help with problem
By ELLY GRIMM
• Leader & Times
Nationwide statistics revealed in 2012 the teen pregnancy rate hit a 40-year low in 2008, when the national teen pregnancy rate was 68 pregnancies per 1,000 teens, according to the Huffington Post.
The Post goes on to say this marked a 42 percent decline from the rate of 117 pregnancies per 1,000 teens in 1990.
While the trend of teen births is decreasing nationwide, Seward County recently ranked 95 out of 98 in the state of Kansas with the teen pregnancy rate according to the most recent county health rankings.
According to staff at the Seward County Health Department, Seward County consistently ranks among the worst every year. However, they are taking steps to help remedy the situation, starting with their improvement plan, still in the process of being completed.
“We all seem to know that this is an issue we would like to address – it affects young peoples’ lives dramatically if it happens before they finish school, It affects the culture, the economy and all types of things,” said Susan Lukwago, a dietician with the Women Infants Children department. “It’s hard to grasp what are we doing about it, and this community improvement plan at this time will, hopefully, produce some results.”
The need for the improvement plan, which was started in March 2013, came after the completion of the community health assessment. Martha Brown, the director at the Seward County Health Department, says that she was not surprised to see teen pregnancy come up throughout the course of the assessment.
“In that mix was teen pregnancy, which is a huge concern of almost everybody in the community, but it’s like, yet again, what do we do about it?” Brown said. “Knowing it’s a problem and addressing it and having a goal to make it better, you know, you have to take baby steps, you sure can’t fix everything overnight. Our group, as one component in the equation, is to come up with ways that we will do as a group to come up with one or two ways that we can address the issues.”
Brown admitted that, while they are taking steps to help improve the teen birth rate, the plan is short of being finished and nailed down. During the course of conducting the community health assessment, the health department staff was able to come up with 28 different health needs, which was then whittled down to six, the top one being teen pregnancy.
“We don’t have to come up with something new, there are other communities and areas around the country, even in Kansas that have addressed teenage pregnancy and have come up with evidence-based practices, evidence-based programs, programs that show that they work that we can look at and use as well. We’re not the first to do this,” Lukwago said. “I know every girl (in this case it’s a girl from 15-19) every girl is different, of course, but something that might have worked somewhere else will also work here.”
Brown added that the department is also waiting to hear word if they are recipients of the Teen Pregnancy Targeted Case Management Grant, a grant that targets young ladies either currently pregnant or have recently given birth.
“If we’re awarded that program, we’ll have to get right on it because we’ve never had that grant before,” Brown said.
With the grant, the department is going to have Liberal High School, USD No. 480, USD No. 483 representing Kismet and Plains onboard. The department is also looking to gain some input or some ideas from church groups, from other groups within the community, including the Liberal Coalition for Families, to come up with programs to help lower the teen pregnancy rate.
For those already facing a teen pregnancy, the health department has several services to help, including the maternal and infant program, which the young woman has to apply to. The program also offers classes at Liberal Memorial Library, a total of three 2- to 3-hour classes, and they are for those who are already pregnant.
“We usually encourage if they have their significant other, their boyfriend, their husband or if they don’t have anybody else, you know, we encourage someone there who will be helping with the baby,” said Leticia Arredondo, a registered nurse at the health department. “We educate them from things not to do with over-the-counter medications, bathing the baby, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, how to put a baby in a car seat, and it’s pretty open.”
All three also discussed the most common questions they face from teens, including how to tell their parents, possibility of adoption and nutrition.
“We will be happy when we have more information to give you about what some of the interventions are that our group can come up with that we’re going to attempt to make a difference with this issue in our county,” Brown said.