SANTA MARIA: City Remains Teen Pregnancy ‘Hot Spot’
Even after the California Department of Health Services declared Santa Maria a teen pregnancy "hot spot" and mandated sex education two years ago for all Santa Maria High School District students, teen birth figures have not dropped, the Santa Barbara News-Press reports. In 1998, there were almost twice as many births to teens in Santa Maria as there were in Santa Barbara County, bucking a trend of declining teen births around the county. Figures from the first half of 1999 indicate Santa Maria's rates have not fallen. Before school district officials mandated sex education, students learned about reproduction and sexuality in elective courses. Now they are required to take a health education class that includes sex education. Officials maintain that the stagnant birth rate "doesn't mean their program has failed." Roger Hill, assistant superintendent of instruction, said, "When a 14-year-old or 15-year-old gets pregnant, it's not because the high school didn't do a good job with its sex education. The education we're doing is too little, too late."
Many Programs Address the Problem
Scott McCann, assistant vice president of education for Planned Parenthood, added, "Knowing about contraception is a necessary, but not sufficient step. ...[I]t's not enough." McCann said that Santa Maria's high poverty level accounts for much of the area's teen pregnancy rate, adding that nationwide, the "highest [teen pregnancy] levels are among lower income folks." Efforts to combat the problem include a support and education program for young men and women in high risk populations and a program aimed at getting adult fathers more involved with their families -- both run by the Community Action Commission of Santa Barbara County. Planned Parenthood runs the Amigo-a-Amigo program, which trains high school and college students to be peer counselors. Planned Parenthood also has joined county Health Care Services to open a clinic in Guadalupe, where residents have limited access to family planning services (Finucane, Santa Barbara News- Press, 4/3).