Last year, authorities with the California Department of Public Health announced the state's teen birth rate was lowest it had ever been. But locally, there seems to be little to celebrate.
Taken together, Ashland, Cherryland and San Lorenzo have the highest teen birth rate in Alameda County, far outpacing Oakland. And although Alameda falls in the bottom third of counties in the state for teen births, that hardly earns anybody a gold star.
In Cherryland alone, the annual teen birth rate—that is, the number of births per 1,000 young woman—is a staggering 67.9. In Ashland, the rate is 54.6. San Lorenzo nudges the county average at 23.7, but the burden falls disproportionally on one group: Latinas. More than 5 percent (56.2 per 1,000) will give birth while still in their teens.
"This is an area that has been overlooked and underserved," said Tomas Alvarez, head of Let's Chat, a local teen pregnancy prevention initiative that is among the first projects to spring from the Ashland Youth Center. "What we know from research and from a lot of people’s experience is that it’s not just about teens making bad decisions."
For the unincorporated communities, teen pregnancy is far from an isolated issue, Alvarez said.
"There’s family issues, there’s issues in the community. There’s gender roles and expectations, lack of access to opportunities and resources," he said.
All this week, San Lorenzo Patch will be exploring teen pregnancy from the inside. We'll bring you into a school for local teen parents, introduce you to the youth leaders of Let's Chat, open up the world of teen fathers and invite local teen mothers to share their own stories. We'll untangle the the roots of the problem, and show you what your neighbors are trying to do about it.
Public health experts estimate teen births cost state taxpayers $1 billion annually, roughly an eighth of the total cost to the country. But for teen parents, their families, and their communities, the costs are much more profound.
Teen mothers often struggle to complete their education, face barriers to employment and are more likely than their childless peers to end up living in poverty. Avoiding those pitfalls often requires the support of parents and other relatives.
"We’re trying to get people to understand that it goes beyond the teen mom, who is statistically whom we look at when we talk about pregnancy prevention programs," said Pedro Naranjo, the center's director. "The issue of teen pregnancy affects everyone."
He pointed to a study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, in which 80 percent of teens surveyed said it would be easier for young people to delay sex and avoid pregnancy if they could talk more openly and honestly with their parents about it.
"I think there’s this fear that if we open it up, that somehow it’s going to create a problem," Alvarez said. "But what people need to understand—they need to know what the rates are. It's not just something that’s impacting the youth, but their families and the community at large."