The number of teenage girls giving birth continued to decline in Hennepin County in 2015, according to new figures released this week.
There were more than 100 fewer births in 2015 involving teen girls compared with 2014, marking a 14.6 percent decline in teen pregnancy rates in Minnesota's most populous county. That's a bigger percentage dip than for the state itself, which had an 11.6 percent decline in teen births.
"It's come down significantly," said Kathy Wick, manager of the county's teen pregnancy prevention program, Better Together Hennepin. "This is not an accident. It's been a long-term focus for Hennepin County."
The county, which annually analyzes birth certificate data, has seen a steady drop in teen births over an eight-year period. The number fell from 1,170 in 2007 to 477 births last year, a bigger overall drop than that registered by the state.
Moreover, the numbers have declined every year since 2007 in Hennepin County, save for a slight uptick in 2012.
"The fact we're outperforming the state is good news," County Commissioner Mike Opat said. "We're putting a lot of good work in it."
For the first time, the county this year got a $7.5 million federal grant to fund a sex education curriculum in schools, the only county in Minnesota to get the five-year grant. The county also is continuing targeted efforts for sex education in cities where teen pregnancy rates are highest: Robbinsdale, Brooklyn Center, Minneapolis and Richfield.
Wick said she thinks it's those efforts that have helped Hennepin County bring down teen birthrates so dramatically.
"I don't know that teens across the state have the same access to reproductive clinics and comprehensive sex education" that Hennepin County teens do, she said.
The Annex Teen Clinic in Robbinsdale, for instance, has seen a spike in the number of patients this year compared to previous years. Teens now have better access to clinical services, new contraceptive methods and sex education, and there are supportive adults encouraging healthy decisions — all of which help reduce the teen birthrate, Executive Director Brian Russ said.
However, he added, there's still more work to be done making sure that teens of color are getting the services they need. While birthrates have declined among teens of all ethnic groups, teen girls of colors still give birth more often overall than do their white peers.
The Hennepin County group with the highest teen birthrate last year remained American Indian girls, with a rate of 51.6 births per 1,000 teens, or 23 births. That's still a decrease of 36 percent from the number in 2006, Wick said.
County officials say that continued funding for teen pregnancy prevention programs will not only help teens but also save them and the government money. Teens who don't become parents are less likely to live in poverty or need help.
"We're always happy when all the hard work demonstrates itself in the data," Wick said. "This is really an investment in our future."