South Carolina’s teen-aged birth rate has fallen by almost half in the past 20 years, marking a significant drop advocates say can be tied to a greater willingness to talk about abstinence, contraceptives and education not seen in previous generations.
“I think 20 years ago we had the option of saying, ‘If we don’t talk about it, maybe it would go away,’” Forrest Alton, CEO of the S.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, said Thursday.
“That’s not an option any more,” he said.
One key trend Alton identified was a willingness by parents and educators to claim the role of young adult teacher, rather than let racy, teen-driven media control the message.
The effort has brought the state’s teen rate to an all-time low, statistics indicate.
“Certainly, the bulk of the praise should be directed at teens who are making more responsible decisions,” Alton said.
Locally, Charleston and Dorchester counties made particular progress, with each recording rates that are lower than the national average for teens 15 to 19 years of age.
Charleston ranked 43rd among the state’s 46 counties; Dorchester, 41st.
Colleton County, located to the west of Charleston, was among the eight worst counties for combating teen-aged birth. Colleton is part of a largely rural pattern of teen pregnancy where a variety of factors affect social conditions, including high employment, poor education performance and low wages.
Berkeley County also showed slow progress, ranking 35th.
Even with the statewide downturn, South Carolina has the 11th-highest teen birth rate in the country, with more than 5,500 teenagers giving birth each year.
One reason Charleston and Dorchester counties fared so well, Alton said, is the presence of various outside advocacy groups working to target teen achievement and health in general.
For example, he named the local Communities in Schools program, which works with at-risk students to advance a variety of success messages meant to improve teen attitudes.
“When kids have goals and have a path to achieve those goals, pregnancy prevention becomes a part of that,” Aimee Lassor, who coordinates the pregnancy prevention program for the local CIS effort, said of the message being taught.
Alton said that even with Charleston’s improvements, there are still pockets of the community within the county where teen pregnancy remains a rooted problem.
For instance, statistics indicate just three ZIP codes accounted for half the teen pregnancies in Charleston County for 2012, or 128 of 256.
All three ZIP codes — 29405, 29406, 28418 — are in and around North Charleston.
Reach Schuyler Kropf at 937-5551