While teen pregnancy rates in Bexar County continue to decline, the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District on Tuesday released provisional data showing that pregnancy rates among teen mothers who already have a child remain stubbornly high.

Females age 10 to 19 gave birth to 2,044 babies in Bexar County in 2016, a decline of 53 percent since 2006, according to the report. Overall, teen pregnancy rates in Bexar County have declined for the eighth year in a row.

“The data reveals that we are making good progress,” said Colleen Bridger, director of the Metro Health. “We aren’t where we need to be, but we continue to make good progress.”

However, the rate of births among 15- to 19-year-old Bexar County teens was 30.2 per 1,000 teen births, nearly 50 percent higher than the national rate of 20.3 per 1,000. In particular, repeat teen births – births to teens who already had at least one child – accounted for 20 percent of all births to teens in 2016.

Reducing repeat teen births has been a “significant challenge,” Bridger said. Metro Health has formed partnerships with Project Worth, a program to promote the health and well-being of Bexar County children and teens, and the San Antonio Teen Pregnancy Collaborative to identify recommendations to address the problem.

Mario Martinez, Project Worth’s program manager, told the Rivard Report that last year the group conducted a root-cause analysis to determine what programs are lacking and how they could be improved.

“The study showed that mental health is important,” Martinez said. “And offering no-cost contraceptives are key to any effective strategy in preventing teen pregnancy.”

Martinez said that through a partnership with Communities in Schools, mental health counselors will work to target pregnant teens and teen mothers, a first for the program, which provides free mental health services to students throughout San Antonio.

“Reducing the teen pregnancy rate is about improving poverty in our community. It is about improving the educational attainment for young people,” Martinez said. “This is about their prospects for the future, and really helping to grow the economy.”

In 2016, there were 15 zip codes in Bexar County in which the teen birth rate was two to four times the teen birth rate nationwide. In 78203, the zip code with the highest average in the county, the rate was at least 81.2 percent above the national average.

According to the report, teen pregnancy in San Antonio cost taxpayers at least $45.2 million due to the cost health care for mothers and children, as well as the potential economic effects of poverty, poor health, and lack of education on a community.

In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared teen pregnancy a “winnable battle.” That means that with enough resources devoted to preventing teen pregnancy, Bridger said, communities can make improvements to impact people throughout their lifetime.

“When you have a baby at [age] 16, it impacts your ability to achieve your goals,” Bridger said. “I agree with the CDC that this is a winnable battle, but it has to be addressed day in and day out.”

Reiana Fernandez, a 19-year-old youth ambassador for Project Worth, works to educate the community on the importance of reducing teen pregnancy rates. She told the Rivard Report that throughout her high school years she witnessed peers who became pregnant and had children, and then struggled to successfully navigate their way through school, economic hardships, and parenting, all at the same time.

She sees her role as both an educator and “someone people can look up to,” to talk to about their struggles with parenting and their thoughts about the future. But ultimately, Fernandez wants to support people by educating them about pregnancy prevention and what having a baby would mean for their future.

“As a teen, you haven’t even gotten a chance to really live your life yet,” Fernandez said. “When you mature more and have the experience of what life is, then you can have a baby. There is always time for a child.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.