Skills for the Job: Teenage pregnancy

Youth professionals have a key role to play in helping to reduce further the current low teen pregnancy rates, writes FPA's Rebecca Findlay.

What is the teenage pregnancy rate in England?

We've seen a breakthrough in teenage pregnancy in England, which is at its lowest for 30 years. This success is down to a dedicated and well-funded (£300m) 10-year government Teenage Pregnancy Strategy, which finished in 2010. Although the strategy's target to halve teenage conceptions has been missed, it has made a big impact. Evidence-based, it linked local health, education and social services to support young people's sexual health and wellbeing. Initiatives such as sex and relationships education (SRE) programmes in schools and the community, sexual health services, and enabling parents to deliver SRE in the home were established as part of it.

The most recent teenage pregnancy figures showed that 38.2 per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 17 became pregnant in 2009. Research shows that while areas such as Hackney have completely reversed their high pregnancy rates, others have continually struggled to implement the strategy effectively and have seen rates rise. This demonstrates that if an area is serious about bringing down teenage pregnancy, providing good-quality services is absolutely essential.

Almost half (49.1 per cent) of girls under 18 end their pregnancy with an abortion. This figure has gone up from 42 per cent in 1998. While the aim is to reduce conceptions themselves, we are seeing young women making different choices about pregnancy – another indicator of the strategy at work.

Why do so many teenagers fall pregnant?

Some young women and young men just need access to good contraceptive and information services. However, for many others it is not so straightforward. The sad equation is that the more deprived an area is, the higher its teenage pregnancy rate will be. Half of teenage pregnancies occur in the 20 per cent of most deprived wards. High-risk groups include those not attending school, leaving school without qualifications, looked-after children, young offenders, daughters of teenage mothers and ethnic groups.

Why does it matter if young people become parents as teenagers?

For the majority of teenagers who go ahead with the pregnancy, the effects on their life chances, economic welfare, aspirations and health are shown to be detrimental. For example, 40 per cent of teenage mothers leave school with no qualifications. Teenage mothers are at increased risk of living in poverty, poor housing and are more likely to encounter social deprivation. Ill health is also more common. Infant mortality rates are higher for young mums, who are also more likely to suffer postnatal depression.

What are the most effective pregnancy prevention programmes?

There is clear evidence that shows what works. This includes access to contraceptive and sexual health services, information and empowerment, comprehensive sex and relationships education in schools and the community, positive education programmes, and interventions to help parents. Adapting services to fit local needs has been seen to get the best results.

Nevertheless, there isn't one service that's a magic bullet. FPA believes any professionals working with young people and parents can integrate teenage pregnancy prevention and broader sexual health into their work. The Scouts and Guides are both doing this and are by no means sexual health organisations.

What support is available to youth workers and other professionals?

Basic courses on sexually transmitted infection and contraception are widely available. For the more advanced, FPA also runs courses such as Non-Consensual Sexual Activity and Young People and Teenage Pregnancy. There's a wealth of information on the internet about sexual health too.

Rebecca Findlay is press and campaigns manager for FPA



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