Thursday, May 28, 2015

Rural Washington county addressing high teen pregnancy rates with confidential, free services

In Washington's most rural county, a social services organization is tackling the region's unusually high rate of teen pregnancy by providing any woman of reproductive age exams, birth control and counseling, Eve Andrews reports for Grist. Room One, in a little wooden bungalow on the edge of Twisp in Okanogan County, was founded in 1998 specifically to address high rates of teen pregnancy in the region. (County Maps of Washington map: Okanogan County)

Okanogan County, which ranks last in the state in quality of life and has the second lowest median household income, has a teen pregnancy rate of 58.5 pregnancies for every 1,000 girls ages 15-19, a rate nearly twice the state average, Andrews writes. Elana Mainer, executive director of Room One, told Andrews, “Historically, getting access to services or building support services has been tough in a community like ours."

One of the greatest benefits of Room One is that "because the organization receives federal Title X funding via Family Planning of North Central Washington, which operates the clinic, its sliding fee scale goes to zero, a crucial factor for girls who have no substantial independent income and would like to avoid a revealing Explanation of Benefits form sent to their parents from an insurance provider," Andrews writes.

Another key is confidentiality—an important factor in a small town, Andrews writes. Washington state law also does not require parental consent for such services, which helps many of the underage girls who are living on their own.

The clinic also "is able to offer long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs)—the IUD and hormonal implants—at zero cost to clients who are at or below the federal poverty level," Andrews writes. "In a fairly recent development in pediatric gynecology, LARCs are now the top-recommended form of birth control for teens, but they’re also expensive."

Room One stresses education in its approach to teen pregnancy, Andrews writes. "The organization runs the sex ed program in the local schools, and its staff has been trained by Planned Parenthood. It’s the only comprehensive sexuality education program in the county. As part of its sex ed curriculum, it also educates teens about domestic violence, power dynamics in relationships and gender oppression." (Read more)

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