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The fight to keep teen pregnancy down is working – and losing funding

Teen births in Hennepin County dropped by two-thirds in a decade.

Teenagers are a lot less likely to be having babies these days. 

That's true nationwide, across Minnesota, and especially in the Minneapolis area. Hennepin County said Thursday teenage births went down more than 12 percent last year. 

That's an even faster decline that the statewide drop of 11.3 percent announced this summer. And the percentage of 15 to 19-year-old females giving birth in the county is about one-third of what it was 10 years ago, the numbers show. 

This summer's statewide report put together by the U of M (read it here) said the three counties with the highest teen birth rates – Mahnomen, Chippewa, and Lake – are all in rural Minnesota. 

Hennepin County says it's made reducing teen births a priority in recent years. Officials are happy to see the results, but not happy about an upcoming loss of federal funding.

$213 million getting cut nationally

There was no big announcement from Washington, but Reveal – the website of the Center for Investigative Reporting – learned in July that the Trump administration had cut more than $213 million from the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

Most of that is grant money the feds give to local agencies and much of the cutting is happening by turning five-year grants into three-year ones. 

That's the case for Hennepin County, where the lead agency fighting teen pregnancy is Better Together Hennepin. Their grant money from the federal government is now set to expire at the end of June next year, the county says. 

The campaign has other funding sources but Better Together Hennepin says losing the $1.5 million grant will cut short the progress they've seen. 

What do they do with the money?

Hennepin County says there are four pieces to its strategy for cutting down on teen pregnancies. 

  • sexuality education in schools
  • health care screening for teenagers 
  • programs that promote positive development 
  • communications training for parents so they're better equipped to help their kids

It's hard to know how directly that work has led to the drop in teen pregnancies. 

Pew Research Center says rates around the country started dropping in the 1990s, particularly during the Recession. Their research says fewer teens are having sex, they're more likely to use contraception, and they have more information about preventing pregnancy.

There's an argument to be made that if teen births are less of a problem for society, maybe we can afford to spend less money preventing them. Then again, maybe that prevention work reduced the problem.

Long-term costs of teenage births

Hennepin County officials are glad to see their local teen pregnancy rate dropping even faster than the rest of the state. And last year's county rate was less than half the 2014 national rate

One reason teen pregnancy became a priority is because it's a financial issue, as well as a social one. And if there's a rebound in the numbers, it could be expensive in the long run. 

According to the county: "Children born to teen mothers are at greater risk for infant death, childhood health problems, cognitive and emotional delays, school struggles, a continued cycle of teen parenthood, and multi-generational poverty."

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