Jackson County Officials Work to Decrease Pregnancy Rates among Latina Teens
August 16, 2012 -- Jackson County has the tenth highest teen pregnancy rate in Oregon – and a disproportionately high teen pregnancy rate among Latina girls.
Even more disconcerting, said Maggie Sullivan, program manager for the Health Care Coalition of Southern Oregon, was the age of some of the girls. She was working at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Jackson County when she and several other health officials conferred, and noticed a high number of middle school-aged Latina girls coming into community clinics requesting pregnancy tests.
Health officials started by holding a health fair called La Salud de Mi Hija (Spanish for “my daughter's health) for Latino families.
After that, the Latino Health Coalition was formed and wrote a community-based participatory research grant through the Northwest Health Foundation to learn some of the underlying causes of the problem.
One problem, Sullivan said, is that parents are often reluctant or unsure about how to talk to their children about sex or relationships. Kids will say their parents are so strict, and they aren't allowed to date, so they end up having covert relationships behind their parents' backs, where parents say they’re not sure what to tell their children.
“Many were raised in families where this was a taboo topic and are feeling really ill at ease,” said Joanne Noone, associate dean of the Ashland campus of the OHSU School of Nursing, who also serves
on the coalition.
Schools are also offering culturally specific sex education addressing pregnancy as well as HIV and AIDS reduction, said Belle Shepherd, division manager for Public Health Services – and the coalition is talking to parents about how to address sexual health with their children.
In addition to educating parents about how to talk to their children, the coalition is proposing that
schools identify bilingual, bicultural parent liaisons to work with parents.
“Families really want to be involved with their children,” Sullivan said. “Because of navigating two cultures, youth live in two different worlds.”
That's partly because in addition to any cultural issues or personal discomfort parents may have educating their children, there’s an even larger issue: community engagement.
“I think what we're seeing is that people need to feel like there are hopes and dreams for the future, in order to feel like a pregnancy is going to derail that,” Sullivan said.
The coalition has proposed that schools identify bilingual, bicultural parent liaisons who can work with parents on encouraging children to pursue their educational goals and encourage them to apply for scholarships to college – and also work with schools to involve Latino students in activities.
Research shows that students who are involved in sports or clubs are less likely to become pregnant before they are ready, but many Latino students feel unwelcome or reluctant to join certain activities, Noone said.
The coalition has also worked with youth themselves. One project – a photo project where Latino youth took photos identifying both positive and negative influences in the community – will be compiled into a calendar soon.
“It's been a really great partnership in bringing youth in and asking, how does this affect them?” Shepherd said.