Teen pregnancy count down; Dot, Mattapan rates highest

While the number of teen pregnancies in Boston is down, Dorchester and Mattapan had the highest rate in 2008 among the city’s various neighborhoods, public health officials said this week.

The average rate for Dorchester was 10.5 percent, higher than the citywide rate of 7 percent and slightly higher than Mattapan, which was at 10 percent. The 2008 figures are the latest data available. The North End, Back Bay, and the Fenway areas had no teen pregnancies.

There are also disparities through race: The teen birth rate among mothers ages 18 to 19 years old declined for blacks, but Hispanic women showed the highest birth rate, with no signs of a drop.
The commission is working on a report on the sexual health of Boston teens, including sexual behavior data. The report is expected to be released in late spring.

“Behind every single number is a person’s story,” Dr. Barbara Ferrer, the head of the Boston Public Health Commission, told the City Council’s Committee on Women and Healthy Communities.

Debra Holland, an African-American mother who lives in the Bowdoin St. area, is one of those stories. She testified before the committee, saying more programs and support systems were needed to help teen mothers stay in school. Holland is working on getting her GED with the help of College Bound Dorchester.

“Some rolled their eyes and would say, ‘Well of course as the only woman [on the council] at-large this is what you’re going to focus on,” said City Councillor At-Large Ayanna Pressley, who chairs the Women and Healthy Communities Committee. “Others said, ‘Thank God because advocacy is needed on these issues on a municipal level.’ There are no issues that are women’s issues. These are impacting whole families, whole communities.”

The issue of teen pregnancy requires a “holistic approach,” Pressley said.

Commission officials pointed to a number of programs the city offers, including the Boston Area Health Education Center, which provides health education to eighth grade students in “high priority” middle schools, “Start Strong,” which aims to avert pregnancy by teaching about teen dating violence, and school-based health centers that offer education on birth control and mental health services.

“With impending state cuts, many of those programs are vulnerable,” Pressley said.

The hearing – the first in a series – will “inform the belt-tightening” she said.

Others who testified included Suffolk County Sheriff Andrea Cabral, and representatives from Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, NARAL-Pro Choice Massachusetts, Planned Parenthood and the Massachusetts League of Community Centers.