Teen pregnancy ignored by municipal leaders

First published: April 26, 2009

A small item about the shocking rate of teenage pregnancies in Northumberland County passed by county council last month without so much as a peep.

Buried inside Northumberland County council’s agenda last month was a report from the Halliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge District Health Unit saying the provincial birth rate for women under 20-years old is 3.4 per cent. The rate within the total population of young women in coverage area of the health unit is more than double that rate at 7.1 per cent. The kicker is Northumberland County’s rate is a whopping nine per cent, almost three times the provincial average.

No doubt, county politicians focus on the pressing issues of the day. Several delegations gave presentations on a range of issues from growth management to sustainable development. This was followed by a series of motions, mainly standard fair and not a lot of debate.

However, the health unit report, found deep inside the package of correspondence, drew no comment. Cobourg Mayor Peter Delanty and Hamilton Mayor Mark Lovshin were present during the health unit meeting where the statistics were reported. The other county representative, Christine Herrington, was absent.

The health unit is taking steps to intervene by targeting young people with education programs. The minutes from the meeting suggest teen pregnancy is gaining acceptance amongst young people as popular movies romanticize it. Major award-winning movies like Juno in 2007, Knocked Up, and Waitress glamorize young women having babies.

As York University Professor Andrea O’Reilly put it recently in a CityTV interview, teen pregnancy is becoming more socially acceptable, as compared to the stigma that was once attached to it not long ago. This makes the task more formidable, but not impossible.

Certainly, there are community-based programs in Northumberland like ALPHA House for teenage mothers. And the TEAM education program helps young mothers return to school to complete their education. These are important and vital programs.

Still, this is dealing with the aftermath and does not address the more direct problem of preventing teen pregnancies. Even young people themselves recognize the growing epidemic. A study done by the Northumberland YMCA in 2006 found the youth surveyed identified teen pregnancy was one of the top three issues for them.

Regardless of what is currently being done, the current strategy is not working because it leaves the health unit baring the bulk of the responsibility. A more proactive approach, involving county council and the boards of education, along with children’s services providers, like the Children’s Aid Society and Kinark, must unite. More than anything, parents must become engaged in this issue. This is a massive challenge, but one that must be faced.

This is an issue of social justice. Teen pregnancy often reveals underlying or predisposing factors like poverty, discrimination and isolation. It is another example of the callousness and the lack of political will of the community’s leadership. Nobody should tolerate this willful ignorance recently displayed by county council. There is no excuse.