* In April, VIHA released a report showing that Port Alberni has a higher number of teen moms per capita than the B.C. or Island average. In a multi-part series, the News examines who some of the teen moms are, how they are supported and how there is more to them than just a number.
The number of teen moms per capita in Port Alberni is declining despite the average number being higher than the Island or BC, Vancouver Island Health Authority Chief Medical Health Officer Paul Hasselback said.
The number of infants born to women under Age 19 has declined in the last 16 years, statistics show. In 1998, there were approximately 120 teen moms per 1,000 births in the Alberni Valley. In 2009 there were 75 and in 2014 there were 104.
The numbers mirror declines over the same period of time on the Island (from 65 to 40) and B.C. (55 to 30). But the numbers spike sharply in 2008, dip in 2009 before starting to spike again in 2010.
Hasselback noted that Alberni doesn’t have the highest rate of teen pregnancy per capita out of 14 different health areas on the Island.
In terms of the number of teen pregnancies per 1,000 births, Vancouver Island North (117) and Vancouver Island West (188) have higher rates than Alberni.
“With the west you are dealing with a smaller number of people,” Hasselback said.
Family environment is a factor in teen pregnancies. Many teen moms come from young family structures, he said. As well, officials see higher rates of young mothers in rural areas compared to cities.
“It’s possible that there is less access to services such as family planning, sex education and planned parenthood but we don’t know that for sure,” Hasselback said.
Teen pregnancy in Port Alberni is an old issue, Port Alberni Family Planning Director Laurel Lenormand said. “I’ve been with the agency for 21 years and we’ve historically had a high rate of teen pregnancy,” she said.
The 45-year old association offers counselling services for individuals, couples and youth. Teen moms are among its clients, Lenormand said. “We provide counselling on parenting and relationships, and we provide support during and after pregnancy.”
Several factors may account for the number of teen pregnancies in Alberni, she said. Some women come from families who have strong beliefs against abortion. Others may have been socialized in families where having children at a young age is acceptable.
Wrestling the number of teen pregnancies will require a community-wide effort with public education about family and life. “Part of that must involve confronting teens with the reality of what it is to parent,” she said. “But there is no one answer to this.”
Lenormand sees two other trends: one is the growing number of grandparents who are raising grandkids; the other is the number of women living in poverty. “It seems the higher the poverty rate the more teen moms there are.”
In a 2011 report by child advocate group First Call, poverty is defined as living below the Statistics Canada low-income cut off. A family of four living in a city with an annual income of less than $34,829 is considered to be poor. A rural family the same size is considered poor if their annual income is under $22,783.
According to Statistics Canada, the average income for females in the Alberni Valley is $24,711; the median income is $19,700.
VIHA hasn’t done any analysis on the correlation of poverty to teen pregnancy on the island or in BC, Hasselback said. “But there does tend to be a correlation between rates of teen pregnancy with indicators of poverty,” he said.
Hasselback cautioned that Island and B.C. teen pregnancy rates as a whole decreased across the recession, as did it in most North American jurisdictions.
“A correlation does not imply causality, so while we can talk about correlation between the two factors, it may well be that something contributes to both,” he said.
Adoption and abortion are options available to teen moms, but provincial legislation prevents the Ministry of Children and Families and the Ministry of Health from releasing any statistics
*The News wraps up its series on teen pregnancy in the Alberni Valley next week with a look at teen dads.