Berks Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative held a press conference Tuesday morning at the Berks County Community Foundation to announce new data showing a decrease of teen birth rates in Berks County.
The Pennsylvania Department of Health recently released 2020 birth data for the state. In Berks County, the data showed teen births (ages 15-19) dropped by 49% since 2012. Birthrates in the City of Reading decreased by 44% in the same timeframe.
In 2020, there were 228 teen births in Berks compared to 455 teen births in 2012. It’s estimated that teen births in 2012 cost approximately $18 million. The City of Reading teen birth rate in 2012 was 3 times higher than that of the county.
“Berks County had unusually high teen pregnancy rates, when teen birth rates were falling everywhere else,” said Carolyn Bazik, executive director of Co-County Wellness Services. “This cost taxpayers money in the form of public assistance programs, lost tax revenue, and youth not capable of finishing school.”
A community health needs assessment done in 2012 outlined the need for something more. Berks Teens, formerly Berks Teens Matter, was formed in 2014 with the goal of reducing teen pregnancy 40% by 2022. Modeled as a collective of private and public stakeholders and as an initiative of Co-County Wellness Services, the goal was to develop and implement a plan, programs and practices to reduce teen pregnancy. Many community partners lent support to the initiative from its inception including United Way, Wyomissing Foundation, Berks County Community Foundation and Senator Judy Schwank
“There had never been any programs in our community aimed at primary teen pregnancy prevention,” said Bazik, “or programs that taught youth the importance of postponing pregnancy until they were emotionally and financially capable. But there were a lot of programs that assisted teens after the birth of their child.”
Berks Teens has created a peer education group at Reading High School and a virtual group throughout the county. The Youth Ambassador program focuses on educating teen volunteers on things like consent, healthy relationships, birth control and sexual health and follows the principles of comprehensive sex education. The YAs work to help educate their peers and other youth throughout the community. They work with adolescents at programs like the Olivet Boys and Girls Club and create health campaigns at school. More than 75 students have participated in the YA program.
State Sen. Judy Schwank commends Berks Teens Matter on reaching its goal of lowering teen pregnancy in Berks County by 40%. “Berks County’s very serious teen pregnancy problem could no longer be ignored. When compared to Pennsylvania’s birth rate per 1,000 for women ages 15-19, Berks County and Reading’s rates made it apparent that things needed to change” said Schwank.
“We know that the result of teen pregnancy usually leads to poverty and greatly reduces a women’s chance of obtaining higher education. Berks Teens Matter has clearly fulfilled its mission statement of reducing teen pregnancy and increasing access to education for the members of our community that need support. I want to express my gratitude and congratulations to all who played a role in achieving this milestone.”
Berks Teens also started a Health Resource Center, funded by Access Matters, and based in Reading High School. Staffed by the Berks Teens Youth and Health Resource coordinator, the HRC is a place students come to get information on sexual health, referrals for services in the community, and free condoms.
Berks Teens also conducts educational trainings in the community on things like “Giving The Talk” “Supporting LGBTQ Youth” and “Being an Askable Adult’
Now in its 8′ year, the initiative recently announced expanding its services for adolescents beyond just teen pregnancy prevention and providing additional support for teen wellness.
“The goal of our initiative was always to have a positive impact on our community by providing tools to support youth and the long-term wellbeing of families and communities,” says Bazik. “Through the principles of comprehensive sex education, we recognize the need to focus on more than just prevention and risk factors. The broader scope of human sexuality means youth having the benefit of understanding healthy relationships, boundaries, gender stereotypes, LGBTQ youth, and mental health.“