A recent analysis of early childhood conditions in the Chattanooga region revealed strikingly high rates of children living in poverty in parts of Catoosa County and high teen pregnancy rates in Walker County.
A new analysis from the Ochs Center for Metropolitan Studies, formerly the Community Research Council, found that teen pregnancy rates in the six-county Chattanooga Metro Region were highest in Hamilton and Walker counties.
In those counties, 40 out of every 1,000 pregnancies were with mothers aged 15 to 17 years, according to the 2008 State of the Chattanooga Region report prepared by the Ochs Center.
In the other four counties, the rates were below 30 per 1,000 pregnancies for girls ages 15 to 17 years.
In Walker County, teen pregnancy had been on the decline until 2006, said Angie Robinson, youth development coordinator for the Northwest Georgia Public Health District, which serves the 10 counties.
“That’s what everyone’s trying to figure out — what happened?” she said.
The health district is launching an effort to hold focus groups and hear from parents and teens about this and related issues, such as poverty rates and high school drop-out rates, Ms. Robinson said.
“We are tying teen pregnancy prevention to how it affects the economy and how it affects the child of the teen mom, the perpetuation of that cycle. ... All of those are just so intertwined,” she said.
In census tracts of Fort Oglethorpe, childhood poverty rates were the highest in the Chattanooga Metro Area, with almost 54 percent of children under 6 living in poverty, the report said.
In Catoosa County, teen-age pregnancy rates have actually dropped since 2002, the report found.
But local officials are worried looming impending funding cuts due to the state’s economic woes will take from the department’s intervention programs for young girls.
“We’re facing about a $200,000 shortfall this year, and we’re doing all we can, but we are facing cuts from the state funding,” said Amy Carroll, nurse manager for the Catoosa County Health Department. “When you cut those funds, there’s always the potential of those teen births increasing. That’s something we’re very concerned about.”
Ms. Robinson pointed to a statistic from the Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention, which said that in Walker County, 74 percent of teens ages 15 to 19 who gave birth in 2005 were unmarried, and children in single-parent households have a higher risk of living in poverty.
Health care reporter Emily Bregel has worked at the Chattanooga Times Free Press since July 2006. She previously covered banking and wrote for the Life section. Emily, a native of Baltimore, Md., earned a bachelor’s degree in American Studies from Columbia University. She received a first-place award for feature writing from the East Tennessee Society of Professional Journalists’ Golden Press Card Contest for a 2009 article about a boy with a congenital heart defect. She ...