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Teen births down


Teen pregnancies have plummeted in Detroit and Wayne County, according to statistics compiled by Kids Count, a national state-by-state, city-by-city, county-by-county analysis of statistics that impact the well-being of children in America. In fact, the survey found that Detroit — with a 39 percent decrease — experienced the seventh-largest decline in teen birth rates from 1990 to 2000 among America’s 100 largest cities.

Detroit’s birthrate among 15- to 19-year-olds dropped from 120 births per 1,000 girls in 1990 to 78 births in 2000. The drop left Detroit with only a fraction more births per 1,000 than in Grand Rapids, where the teen birthrate dropped during the same period from 105 to 77 births per 1,000 teens.

This year, Michigan logged the least number of teen births since the state began keeping records, says Jane Zehnder-Merrell, senior research associate at the Michigan League for Human Services. The drop follows a national trend downward in teen births. Nobody knows exactly why the numbers have dropped so much, Zehnder-Merrell says.

“There’s been a tremendous effort among all youth-serving agencies to make inroads on the teen pregnancy statistic, to slow down or delay sexual activity so that young people wait longer before they become sexually active,” she says. “And if they become sexually active, that the teens have better information on what to do to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. It’s a broad coalition of a wide variety of people working on this.

“We are on the right track, after years and years of having the highest teen birth rate of any [industrialized] country in the world,” Zehnder-Merrell says, noting that the United States for many years had four-times as many teen births as European Union nations, and double that of the United Kingdom.

Only about a third of teen moms eventually go back to get a high school education, Zehnder-Merrell adds, and 90 percent of teen moms keep their babies.

But at Catherine Ferguson Academy, the stream of pregnant teens is constant.

“I don’t see any reduction in kids,” principal G. Asenath Andrews says. Of the 4,000 Detroit teens who give birth each year, the academy sees about 400 of them, or 10 percent.

“We don’t find them. They find us,” Andrews says.

Lisa M. Collins is a Metro Times staff writer. Send comments to

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