Garfield County Grapples with High Teen Birth Rate

Dec 27, 2013

Isis Torres gave birth to her son Javier when she was in high school. Now she's working with other teen moms in the Roaring Fork Valley.
Credit www.garfieldcountyprep.org

Ten percent of all pregnancies in Garfield County are to teenage mothers. That’s high compared to the national average. One non profit is working in schools to help bring down the teen pregnancy rate. They’re counting on a combination of education, access to contraception and community involvement. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.

Isis Torres scrolls through several photos on her phone. Her toddler Javier stares wide-eyed at the camera with a big grin. It's a two-year-old’s typical mischievous look.

"He was so excited. He woke me up at 4 in the morning, asking me for pancakes. That’s him, right there."

When Torres was 15-years-old she discovered she was pregnant and 29 weeks in.

"It was all mental, I just thought I was fat and I couldn’t believe it that I was pregnant. I never considered that. When I went to Mountain Family, I had some pain in my rib cage and that’s when they told me that it was a baby under there," she says.

She waited to tell her father. He was out of work at the time.

"He was struggling. So, we were just home and sometimes we didn’t have food to eat. And, when we had another one we had to feed, it was kind of difficult."

After Torres gave birth to Javier, times were tough but the family managed. Now, the 18 years old is a high school graduate and married to Javier’s father. Torres’s hoping to go to college in a couple of years.

Her story isn’t all that uncommon in Garfield County, where about 80 babies born every year are to teenage mothers.

"Nationwide we’re having these record numbers, record lows of all time of teen pregnancies being at their lowest. And, Garfield County is not impacted by this, so far," says Gretchen Brogdon.

She's Program Manager for the Garfield County PREP project. It works with teenagers at middle and high schools throughout in the sprawling, rural county.

The county’s had a tough time keeping up with statewide and national trends. The teen birth rate has declined almost continuously over the last 20 years across the country. And, Colorado’s rate is slightly less than the national average.

"This is an area where Colorado statewide has really made a ton of progress," says Sarah Hughes.

She collects this kind of data for the Colorado Children’s Campaign.

"We’ve actually seen in 2012, the teen birth rate was less than half of what it was back in 2000."

She says prevention programs and easier access to contraception have lowered the teen birth rate. Still, her data shows Garfield County’s progress has been slower.

"What we see if we look at the past 10 or 12 years of data, we do see that the teen birth rate in Garfield County has bounced around a little bit more, it hasn’t been as consistent a decline."

Still, Hughes says the rate is lower in the county than it was in 2000.

The Garfield County PREP project’s goal is to lower the teen birth rate even more. The program is using federal dollars targeted at Colorado counties with high teen birth rates to teach comprehensive sex education. Gretchen Brogdon says the goal is to bring down the rate by 2 percent.

"This is a really safe, structured curriculum that I think really fits with most peoples’ values around open conversation, knowing how diseases are passed around, knowing how pregnancy happens and giving teens the opportunity to own their decisions."

She says the curriculum is medically accurate, evidence-based, age appropriate and culturally relevant. And, all of the participating schools have signed onto it. Several health teachers are already teaching it.

Brogdon’s data also shows slightly more babies in Garfield County are born to Latino families than to Anglo families. But, more Latina mothers stay in school. At the same time she says kids also deal with a lot of misinformation.

"We discovered that there’s a lot of myths and that technology is really not helping our teens in this way. They’re Googling everything or they’re digging up information."

Teen mom Isis Torres says she knew very little when she became a mother.

"I actually really didn’t know anything, but just to change a diaper because I had little siblings, but that was about it."

She learned many lessons on how to be a mother from a teen parent program at Yampah Mountain High School in Glenwood Springs.

Now, she wants to talk to teen girls just like herself. She’s training to work with the Garfield County PREP program. Already, Torres says she knows classmates who are mothers.

"I see them with their babies or I see them pregnant and I see them posting pictures on Facebook with their bellies. They don’t know what’s coming. That’s what I feel, they don’t know what’s coming," she says.

The PREP program is working in the RE-1 and RE-2 school districts that operate schools from Basalt to Glenwood Springs to New Castle.