Jamestown and Dunkirk teenagers are twice as likely to get pregnant as the average New York state teenager.
Putting a finger on what that means is difficult, though.
According to recently released numbers from a 2010 National Center for Health Statistics survey, the teenage birth rate for New York state is 2.3 percent. This number has been declining since the early 1990s, when the statewide percentage was 4.6 percent.
In Chautauqua County, however, the birth rate to teenage mothers was 3.6 percent in 2010. The highest averages in the county came from Jamestown, at 6.3 percent, and Dunkirk, with 8.2 percent of births to teenage mothers.
Studies show the child of a teenage mother is more likely to become a teenage parent themselves. Additionally, children born to teenage mothers are at greater risk of social behavioral problems and are almost three times as likely to be incarcerated during their adolescence or early 20s as are the children of older parents.
Lack of available statistics makes defining the problem difficult as well. There is no accurate accounting to show what New York, or Chautauqua County, spends caring for teen mothers and their children. Additionally, teenage childbearing cost New York taxpayers at least $377 million in 2008, according to a study by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy entitled By the Numbers: The Public Costs of Teen Childbearing.
Editor's Note: This is the first in a three-part series examining teen pregnancy.
Five women reflect on their lives as teenage mothers on Pages E1 and E8 of today's issue. In Monday's edition,
The Post-Journal will examine sex education and the media's impact on teen pregnancy. In Tuesday's edition, The Post-Journal will look at Jamestown's Teenage Education and Motherhood program.
Of that, 24 percent were federal costs and 76 percent were local costs. The average annual cost associated with a child born to a mother age 17 and younger in New York is $6,094.
To help define the issue, The Post-Journal recently spoke with many of the people dealing with teen pregnancy every day - the judges, doctors, mothers and specialists who deal with the issue.
The Post-Journal spoke with five women, ages 15 through 36, who were either about to become a teenage mother, or had given birth when they were a teenager. Often, these women were in a committed relationship at the time of their pregnancy. Many were using a form of birth control that failed at the time of conception.
Of the five women, none of them are still together with the biological father of their child, but many say that there is someone in the fathering role in their child's life. All of them shared their reactions to their pregnancies, as well as the joys and struggles that they have dealt with along the way. The stories of Joyce, Ashley, Kaitlyn, Katie and Jennifer may be found on Page E8.
Perhaps Chautauqua Family Court Judge Judith Claire had the best opinion as to why the rates in Chautauqua County are higher than the state rates.
"Many teenagers have children because they see life as something that happens to them, not something that they have a say in, or that they can control. I think this is one of the largest reasons. They've grown up in a world where there is no concept of taking charge of your life, of being proactive, of long-term decision making," Claire said.