ST. JOSEPH, Mo. -- The rate of teen pregnancy in Buchanan and Nodaway counties in northwest Missouri has spiked recently, causing concern among area health officials.
"Teen pregnancies are definitely on the rise again," said Nancy Kimsey, a case manager for the St. Joseph-Buchanan County Health Department. "It's a problem."
Last year, the number of teen pregnancies in Buchanan County shot up to 194, the highest since 1999, according to the Missouri Health and Senior Services Department. In Nodaway County, teen pregnancies more than doubled between 2003 and 2004.
Amy Brown, coordinator of the YWCA's Journey to United Mentors and Parents (JUMP) program, which provides mentoring and support for pregnant teens, said the recent increase has been primarily in younger teens.
"That's where the big problem lies," Brown said. "They are getting pregnant younger. And it's harder to keep an eighth-grader in school than it is an older teen."
Buchanan County consistently has a higher teen pregnancy rate than surrounding counties and the state of Missouri overall.
In 2002, the Annie E. Casey Foundation reported Buchanan County had 58.4 teen births per 1,000 births. By comparison, neighboring counties Andrew and Platte reported 29.8 and 23.3, respectively.
Hope Stagner, a volunteer at the Pregnancy Resource Clinic, said she doesn't know what's behind Buchanan County's consistently high rate.
But she said the problem may be the regional attitude about teen pregnancy.
"It's socially accepted here," she said. "If a girl gets pregnant here, it's not that big of a deal."
Brown said teens see their pregnant peers showered with attention and assistance. "But they don't see the tough stuff," she said.
"They aren't around when they are up all night. They see a lot of the good stuff and not a lot of the hard stuff."
Kimsey said the social acceptance extends even to the families of the pregnant teens. "Some of their moms will come in with them and say, 'It's OK. I was pregnant when I was their age,"' she said. "They're excited."