Let’s talk about sex. Here in Shepway the numbers of teenager pregnancies (15 – 17) has fallen dramatically. Between 2005 and 2010 the numbers were a real roller-coaster ride. After 2010 the number of teen pregnancies has continued to fall until 2014. In 2015 they showed a small increase in Shepway, Thanet and Swale according to the latest data available.
In 1998 – which is the earliest year for which figures are readily available – the rate of teen pregnancies in the UK stood at 47.1 per 1,000 meaning the prevalence of teen pregnancies has more than halved across the UK over the past 17 years. This is due to a lot of hard work by many agencies.
Reasons for the significant fall in numbers include better joint working between agencies, better sex education, improved access to contraception, a shift in aspirations towards education and increased stigma towards teenage mothers.
Though teenage pregnancies have fallen the latest figures available to those on the ground show a small but worrying increase. Health care professionals have contacted us with their concerns regarding a rise in numbers; which although not quite significant do not have far to go to become so they inform us.
Babies born to teenage mothers have a 60% higher risk of infant mortality. Teenage mothers have three times the rate for post natal depression and are also highly likely to access services late, potentially further compromising their care. Teenage mothers have a statistically significant higher rate of stillbirths. Postnatally they have much lower rates of breastfeeding at both birth and at 6-8 weeks.
Thanet as you can see from the table above continues to have a significant issue with teenage pregnancies, as does Swale, Dover and Shepway. All four districts remain stubbornly above the UK average and Kent average.
Teenage pregnancy is a complex lifestyle issue and not within the remit of one agency to solve. Teenage mothers are a particularly vulnerable group who are much more likely to be posing considerable risk to both themselves and their babies.
However, Kent County Council’s public health budgets have fallen from £48 per head in 15/16 to £45 per head in 17/18. Health care professionals are seeing a rise in under 18 service users visiting sexual health clinics across the County.
So last week spoke to the Family Planning Association who warned “further cuts to contraception services could reverse the positive trend. The reduction is the hard work of health and education professionals, and the legacy of the Teenage Pregnancy Strategy – a key component which has improved access to contraception,” a spokesperson said.
“However, recent dramatic cuts to contraception services could see this improvement reverse.” They went onto say “The UK Government has cut public health budgets by a whopping £800m over six years.” (2010 – 2016)
In 2015 the UK had the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Western Europe. It would be a waste to see all the hard effort of health and education professionals undone by a drive to shrink the state.
In the first Folkestone Triennial in 2008, Tracy Emin’s artwork was inspired by teenage pregnancies. ‘Baby Things’ was inspired by the high percentage of teenage pregnancies in the area, and according to the artist, she wanted the work to challenge the perceptions of teenage mothers. The figures show that perhaps her work which raised the perception of teenage pregnancies has contributed to the downward trend.
It is essential in a time of austerity young people can continue to access sexual and reproductive health information and support services. With shrinking NHS Budgets and local authorities public health budgets we believe that it was right of those local health care professionals to raise this important issue.
The Shepwayvox Team