More than 46 teenage girls of every 1,000 in the Mountain State gave birth during 2011, according to the West Virginia Kids Count organization. The fact that rate is higher than the national average (34) is troubling enough. But in some counties, the problem has increased during the past few years.
When teenagers have children, the consequences can be severe and lingering. For example, about one-third of girls who drop out of high school say they did so because they got pregnant.
Poverty rates for both mothers and children in such situations are higher than for other segments of the population. And especially for younger girls, the risks of bearing unhealthy babies are higher.
As we reported earlier this week, the rate of babies born to teenagers in West Virginia during 2011 was 46.3 per 1,000 girls. That makes teenage pregnancy a statewide problem.
According to West Virginia Kids Count, in 2009 the rate of babies born to teenagers in Randolph County was 53.6 per 1,000 girls, while the rate in Barbour County was 45.8, the Tucker County rate was 31.7 and the Upshur County rate was 29.0.
Kids Count offers several suggestions for reducing the rate. They include ensuring schools provide comprehensive sex education, giving young people "a credible vision of a positive future," helping adults work with children to curb the problem, and creating "community-wide action plans."
Learning more about why some counties have lower rates of teen pregnancies would be an excellent first step. Why is Brooke County's rate more than 20 points below the state average? Why is Pleasants County's rate (30 per 1,000) so much lower than neighboring Tyler County's (52.5)?
Concern about teen pregnancy is nothing new. Clearly, however, despite decades of initiatives by government and in schools, success has proven elusive. A good next step, then, would be to find out precisely why teen pregnancy rates differ so much from county to county and attempt to use that information to curb the problem.