By Deb Courson Smith

Today is the last day of Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, and Montana must be doing something right. The teen birth rate has declined significantly over the past 15 years, with two in 10 Montana teens becoming pregnant before age 20, while the national rate is three in 10.

Jill Baker, director of education at Planned Parenthood of Montana, credits improvements in Big Sky Country to more education in schools, parents talking to children about values, access to reproductive health care, and programs focused on youth leadership, healthy behaviors, and a sense of purpose in the community.

“And we have some great research now that shows us some of the most promising programs, so the more we know about what works, the more that we can implement these types of programs.”

Baker says TOP (the Teen Outreach Program) helps teens with all kinds of decisions. It’s available, or soon to be available, in Great Falls, Missoula, Belgrade, Livingston and Helena. She says it’s a youth development program that’s credited with lowering the risk of pregnancy by more than 50 percent, as well as boosting high school graduation rates.

“You can provide information to young people, but they have to have a reason to use it. So, setting goals is a really important connection for young people to delay parenthood.”

Baker notes that the state does still face challenges, especially in health disparities among Native Americans. She says teen child-bearing is associated with a higher rate of serious health problems for the baby and the mother.

Statistics on teen pregnancies are at dphhs.mt.gov