Warning over rise in teen pregnancies

Teenage pregnancies are on the increase in Norfolk despite a 10-year drive to persuade young people to use contraception or resist having sex too soon.

Teenage pregnancies are on the increase in Norfolk despite a 10-year drive to persuade young people to use contraception or resist having sex too soon.

New figures reveal that the number of under-18s falling pregnant in the county has increased by 7.6 per cent since 1998, while the teen pregnancy rate nationally has fallen by 11.8pc.

The figures for some districts within Norfolk are even worse, with Broadland recording a 45.4pc rise and Norwich a 33.3pc increase in teenage pregnancies from 1998 to 2005.

The increase comes despite an investment of hundreds of thousands of pounds in government cash in the county since the then prime minister Tony Blair launched the government's Teenage Pregnancy Strategy in June 1999, pledging to halve the conception rate by 2010.

Teenage pregnancy has been linked to a number of health and social problems, including a higher infant mortality rate and greater risks of accidents, behavioural problems, poverty and low educational attainment.

Cutting it is a key element of the government's health policy, and involves encouraging young people resist pressure to have sex too soon and increasing the uptake of contraceptives.

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Norfolk still has a lower-than-average teenage conception rate of 39.8 per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 17, compared to the figure of 41.1 for England as a whole.

But the county is lagging badly behind when it comes to reducing the pregnancy rate.

Norfolk's poor performance is due to be discussed at a meeting of the county council's review panel next week .

A report which will go before councillors admits that “the rate of teenage pregnancy in Norfolk is in the wrong direction of travel compared to the rest of the country”.

It says tackling the problem has not been a high enough priority within the county and talks of a “lack of ownership” of the issue, adding: “…there has been a widespread belief that teenage pregnancy is being addressed as a project by 'someone else' within the county.”

It concludes: “Good practice within the county had been disjointed and fragmented, being dependent on individual practice and not strategically or comprehensively driven.”

But the man heading the project said yesterday that the target was still within reach.

Mark Osborn, teenage pregnancy coordinator for Norfolk Children's Services, said that while teenage conception rates across the country were falling, this was not happening fast enough to reach the government's target by 2010.

“In Norfolk we have got an increase. In order to achieve that target - and I think we still can - we need to significantly improve our performance,” he said.

“The figures belie the fact that there's a lot of good work going on in Norfolk. What we need to do is make sure it is targeted more effectively to the most vulnerable young people.”

All agencies working on the project in Norfolk have been ordered to carry out a “comprehensive self-assessment” by the end of next month.

“One of the things we need to do is improve the way we collate data,” said Mr Osborn.

“Teenage pregnancy goes hand-in-hand with deprivation. A lot of work has been done in Great Yarmouth which has a lot of deprived wards within it.

“We are getting a 9.9pc reduction there, so we need to look at good practices going on there and how they can be developed strategically across the county.”

Breckland was in line with the national average, recording an 11.8pc fall, while King's Lynn (-0.2pc), North Norfolk (-4.5pc) also recorded falls. The county's star performer was South Norfolk, where the rate fell by 13pc.

The district also had the county's lowest teenage conception rate, of 18.5 per 1,000, while Norwich had the highest at 71.5pc.

The council's teenage pregnancy strategy unit has seven staff. Neither the council nor the Department for Education and Skills was able to put a figure on how much money it has received since the launch of the project in 1999, but the total figure for the last three years is £746,000.

Rosalie Monbiot, cabinet member for children's services, said: “It is essential to bring this issue to the attention of review panel in this way as it must stay at the top of our agenda.

“Evidence suggests that children of teenage mothers are at increased risk of poverty, low educational attainment, infant mortality, accidents and behaviour problems.

“This is not an issue we can ignore and this paper shows we are taking action, with key partners in the voluntary and health sector, to reduce teenage pregnancy and improve the outcomes for some of the most vulnerable young people in our communities.”

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