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6 consecutive years - Texas is nation's repeat brith-rate leader

Sept. 16, 2009

By Derek Smith

ChildTrends, a Washington based research group, reports that 23% percent of Texas girls who become pregnant will become pregnant a second time, a troubling statistic to many in a state that regularly is near the top in the nation in teen birth rates to begin with. 2009 is the first year that ChildTrends has released results at the city levels as well, and the Metroplex, Houston, San Antonio, and Austin are all well above the state and national averages.

Tracy Cousins and Pam Smallwood are working to battle teen pregnancy on the front-lines in McLennan County. Cousins, as executive director of McLennan County Collaborative Abstinence Project, Smallwood, as executive director of Planned Parenthood in Waco. Both agree that what's currently being done in Texas isn't working. Tracy Cousins:

An overwhelming majority of Texas school districts give students abstinence-only education. Smallwood says the problem isn't that abstinence education is taught, but that students aren't given other options, such as safe sexual practices. Tracy Cousins of McCap also doesn't believe the current structure goes far enough. He thinks part of the answer lies in making the sex ed continuous, studying the qualitative aspects of sexual pressures students face, and investing the time to follow through with individual students afterwards.

Pam Smallwood decries the fact that students who will be sexually active find contraceptives difficult to find in addition to not being given information about them in schools throughout the state.

Both say that parents need to be more involved than they are, and schools, religious groups, and other community organizations should take steps to involve them early-on.

Dr. Martha Sherman is a professor of sociology at Baylor. She agrees with both Tracy Cousins and Pam Smallwood on the importance of the parental role. But it's not always so easy in communities where teen pregnancy is the norm. What other people see as a pregnancy that affects a teen's ability to get a job, an education, or build wealth, many see as just another obstacle that their mother overcame.

In addition to the normalcy in some communities, Dr. Sherman said that sexual education cannot be a one-semester or even one-day class or convocation. It has to be more pervasive.

And she, like those on different sides of the battle here locally, say the results of this study should send a clear message to lawmakers in Austin if they want the repeat birth rate to go down.

For KWBU news, I'm Derek Smith.

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