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Decline in teen births a positive sign, but not necessarily a trend

Date: 5/3/2010

May 3, 2010

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

SPRINGFIELD - Is the decline in teen births as noted in statistics compiled in 2008 an isolated incident or is it part of a trend? School and public health officials in the city are not yet sure without the release of 2009 information, but expressed hope they are at a lunch meeting last week at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Mayor Domenic Sarno, School Superintendent Dr. Alan Ingram and Helen Caulton Harris, director of the city's Health and Human Services Department spoke to representatives from the schools and social service agencies about the progress made in the effort to stem the tide of unplanned teen births.

"I know this is a call to action, but it's also a thank you to each and every one of you," Sarno told the audience.

He noted that previous School Committees and superintendents have not addressed the issue of unplanned teen births.

"Obviously abstinence is the best way to go," Sarno said, "but what we were doing wasn't working."

Ingram said at the luncheon after a year of work, "the recent results show some hope."

When asked later in the week what inspired this hope, considering there aren't statistics available for 2009, School Department spokesperson Azell Caavan said, "The 'hope' lies in the fact that we are trending in the right direction in Springfield. Teen births decreased from 84.3 in 2007 to 61.4 in 2008. That, in addition to new efforts in Springfield such as the Springfield Adolescent Sexual Health Advisory Council (SASHA), illustrates the commitment and unity in the community around the important and continued work of decreasing the teen birth rate."

Caulton Harris was cautious about using the word "trend" to describe what is happening. She explained to Reminder Publications a trend would be determined if the statistics were going in the same direction for three years.

She said that in 2007, the city was the second highest in the state for teen births. In 2008 it dropped to sixth place. This decrease came before Sarno formed SASHA and before the School Committee formally adopted a new family life and sexual health curriculum last year.

Caulton Harris said her hope is the combination of the advisory board and the implementation of the curriculum in the public schools will make a positive difference. She noted the 2009 numbers may not be available until next year and the 2010 statistic not until 2012.