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Tackling teenage pregnancy: Local government’s new public health role

In many ways teenage pregnancy is one of the success stories of the last decade in the public health field.

The under 18 conception rate has fallen by 34 per cent since 1998 to 31 per 1,000 women, according to 2011 figures. It means it is at its lowest rate since 1969.

But that still equates to nearly 30,000 conceptions a year. Around three quarters of those are unplanned and about half end in an abortion.

For conceptions that end in a birth there are often costs too. For many teenagers bringing up a child is incredibly difficult and often results in poor outcomes.

This includes poor emotional health for the mother and physical health for her and the baby.

There is also an increased chance both will live in poverty and have poor education and employment prospects.

So what is the answer to tackling teenage pregnancy?

Obviously the work over the last 10 years or so has provided a wealth of evidence of what does and does not work.

High quality sex and relationship education and having accessible and effective contraception are the two key factors. That clearly involves working with schools, but also with other partners and in other settings.

The areas that have had the most success have made sure all young people have good sex and relationships education and access to contraception but have also specifically targeted support to at risk groups. This includes young people in and leaving care, NEETs and those in the criminal justice system.

But the poor outcomes for those who do become teenage parents has also demonstrated the need to invest in dedicated and co-ordinated support post-birth, including more intensive support through family nurse partnerships.