Increase in teenage pregnancies

NORWICH has taken over the mantle of the region's teenage pregnancy capital, according to shocking new figures.The under-18 pregnancy rate in the city soared from 49.

NORWICH has taken over the mantle of the region's teenage pregnancy capital, according to shocking new figures.

The under-18 pregnancy rate in the city soared from 49.5 girls in 1,000 to 64.3 in the latest Office for National Statistics data comparing the periods 2002-04 to 2005-07.

In response to the figures, which show the overall Norfolk rate rising from 36.2 to 39.9, Lisa Christensen, children's services director at Norfolk County Council, last night pledged to tackle the issue from every angle and “ensure there is no postcode lottery on information and advice”.

The rise in Norwich, one of the sharpest nationally, signals that the city has taken over the unwelcome mantle from Yarmouth which recorded only a slight rise from 60.1 to 63.5.

The only districts in the region showing a falling rate are South Norfolk, 20.5 to 18.4, Waveney, 44 to 43.6, and Suffolk Coastal, 23.2 to 22.1.

The ONS figures reflect a worsening national picture with the under-18 pregnancy rate rising from 2006 to 2007 (40.9 to 41.9) for the first time since 2002. The under-16 conception rate also rose nationally from 7.8 to 8.3. (District figures are only available in three-year blocks as otherwise the amount of data would be too small to be meaningful.)

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Ms Christensen said tackling teenage pregnancy in partnership with NHS Norfolk had been a top priority for the past two years.

She did not want people to think there was just a problem in Norwich and everywhere else was OK - it was a big issue for the whole county.

She said: “We will have to look at everything, from the availability of drop-in clinics, contraception and sex education, to the attitude of parents of girls becoming teenage parents, to the attitude of the media and adverts sexualising children from an early age.

“We have to be really clear in this county that being a teenage parent is never a positive choice. The outcome for teenage parents is significantly worse in terms of achievement and job prospects, and for the babies, their life chances are much worse.”

She stressed the ONS figures were two years old and they were working on developing more current ones that might better show how measures already put in place were working.

A spokesman for NHS Norfolk said teenage pregnancy rates were related to areas of deprivation but there was no obvious answer to the sharp statistical rise in Norwich.

Lyn Blizzard, health improvement principal at NHS Great Yarmouth and Waveney, said: “Although the rise in teenage pregnancies in Yarmouth and Waveney is lower than elsewhere in the country, it is still too high and reduction remains one of our priorities.

“We take an active role in educating young people about sexual health and contraception, and are targeting groups who we know are at the greatest risk of becoming teenage parents. This work includes increasing the range of services available through schools.”

The government, which had previously pledged to halve teenage pregnancy rates by next year, yesterday responded to the ONS figures by announcing funding worth �20.5m, of which �19m is new cash.

Children's minister Beverley Hughes said the cash was focused on encouraging young people to delay early sex and to practise safe sex when they do become sexually active.

Of the money, �7m will be spent on a contraceptive choice media campaign to raise awareness of the different options - including long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) such as implants. A total of �10m will be given to local health services to ensure contraception is available “in the right places at the right time”.

Juliet Hillier, from the sexual health advice charity Brook, said: “It's disappointing but not surprising to see an increase.

“It is essential that funding finds its way to local areas where the need is greatest and this is simply not happening consistently.

“Sex and relationships education is still too little, too late and too biological.”

Young people seeking advice on contraception are invited to ring the free and confidential Brook helpline on 0808 8021234.