Viewpoint: State agencies need to find ways to help curb teen pregnancy

If a New Mexico teenager gets pregnant, she is less likely to finish high school, get and hold a job or attain economic stability. There are exceptions, but having a baby, or babies, generally makes life tougher for a teen.

Plus, her child will be more likely to live in poverty, start out behind in school, be mistreated and go to jail or prison than children born to older parents, according to a state Legislative Finance Committee analysis.

And while New Mexico has followed a national trend of fewer teen births, it still has the second-highest teen pregnancy rate nationally. That’s even though births to females ages 10 to 19 in New Mexico declined from 4,469 in 2005 to 2,980 in 2013. That year, there were 40 births per 1,000 in New Mexico compared to the national average of 29 per 1,000, according to the report.

The LFC report says children born to teenage moms will cost taxpayers $84 million annually, including Medicaid coverage and public assistance, as well as the long-term potential for those children dropping out of school.

The report suggests a comprehensive statewide approach is needed to address a situation that Mark Williams, director of the Health Department’s Public Health Division, sees as a “winnable battle.”

It’s about time. Current efforts are fragmented, according to the report, which recommends health officials engage the departments of Human Services, Children, Youth and Families, and Public Education to find strategies, some that could be implemented without changing laws.

Birth control, public awareness campaigns and existing programs notwithstanding, there is more that can, and should, be done. A coordinated state plan is a good place to start if better outcomes for teen parents, their children and the state at large are to be achieved.

— Albuquerque Journal

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