It's a good news and bad news scenario for parents and educators about teen pregnancy in Beaufort County.
The good news: Overall, fewer Beaufort County teens gave birth during the last decade, according to state health data released Tuesday by the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Teen birth rates in South Carolina declined for a third year in a row and were at an all-time low in 2010, the most recent year for the data.
The state has seen a 26 percent decline in the teen birth rate over the last decade. Beaufort County saw a 23 percent decline over the same period, from 56 teen births per 1,000 to 43.2.
There were 210 teen births in the county in 2000 compared to 192 in 2010.
The bad news: Younger teens gave more births in the county in 2010 than 2009. The birth rate among 15- to 17-year-olds increased 20 percent. Conversely, birth rates among 18- to 19-year-olds -- two-thirds of all teen births -- dropped 24 percent.
"It's a reminder we have a long road ahead," said Forrest Alton, CEO of the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. "We should celebrate and applaud an overall decrease for the state, but it's a stark reminder that our work is far from over."
Alton and Beaufort County School District officials hope to address the troubling change and make further inroads to curtail teen pregnancy under new curriculum begun this school year.
The district was given two grants last year totaling $780,000 to support districtwide pregnancy prevention at middle and high schools. The money is being used as part of a five-year project by the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
Casey Newsome, the district's comprehensive health coordinator, said the new curriculum standardizes sex education and pregnancy-prevention efforts across the district. Before, different schools were using different programs.
In middle school, seventh- and eighth-graders are taught through a program that emphasizes abstinence called "It's Your Game, Keep it Real!" In high school, ninth- through 12th-graders participate in an "abstinence-plus" program called "Safer Choices." It teaches students abstinence is the best way to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancy. It also emphasizes use of contraception for reducing these risks for students who decide to have sex.
The program is designed to help teens say "No" to having sex and increase condom use for those who are, Newsome said.
It also creates a student club for peer education about HIV, STDs and pregnancy prevention, as well as a school health promotion council.
School leaders have also planned workshops to help parents talk about the topic with their child, said Sheila Wiley, project manager.
The curriculum has proven to delay sex among teens at other schools in the country, according to the district. Teachers will work with the University of South Carolina to gauge its effectiveness, surveying students before and after the program to see if their behaviors change, Newsome said.
The district's goal is to help students make responsible decisions, but sex education in school cannot replace the important role parents play, Newsome said.
On a positive note: More teens in the state are choosing abstinence, and for those having sex, more are using contraceptives more consistently than in the 1990s, according to the S.C. teen pregnancy-prevention campaign.
Teen pregnancy also is being discussed more frequently at home, according to the campaign.
A recent statewide survey found more than 75 percent of high school students said parents had talked to them about expectations regarding sexual behaviors.
"Young people are being bombarded on a daily basis with messages about sex ... (and) kids can get the information from MTV or from a caring adult," Alton said. "Presented with the option, the logical choice is the latter."