Yarmouth teen pregnancy research study receives preliminary information

Published on April 3, 2008

A research project, "Determinants of Adolescent Pregnancy: Factors Influencing Youth Behaviours in a Rural Nova Scotia Community", investigating why teen pregnancy rates are high in Yarmouth has received preliminary information through interviews with youth. "Findings from these interviews will serve to inform the work of the Yarmouth Working Group for the Prevention of Teenage Pregnancy (YWGPTP), which is composed of a wide range of community stakeholders dedicated to addressing this important community concern," says Don Langille, Professor of Community Health and Epidemiology at Dalhousie University and project lead. Major findings to date indicate that:

Youth see Yarmouth as "OK", but limited in opportunity. They also feel that adults can view them negatively. Even though there are many school and extracurricular activities offered in Yarmouth, youth often indicated 'there's nothing to do here/it's boring', saying this could be a factor in teenagers having sex. Drugs and alcohol are seen by youth as contributing to teen pregnancy; this is complicated by peer pressure. Female youth can be involved with older partners and may not always think this issue through very well.

Interviewees indicated that different values are placed on sexual activity by females compared to males; female activity can be judged quite harshly, whereas there can be an expectation that males will be sexually active. Responsibility for birth control is placed largely on young women. When asked how young men involved in a teen pregnancy would be viewed by others, many youth felt this would be in real contrast to the way a young woman would be seen.

With respect to parent communication with their children about sex, the real world situation was often seen to fall short, but most youth, even the ones who said they did not have much discussion with their parents regarding sexual health, said that they think these discussions are important to have. Many participants indicated that their parents had established some rules about behaviour concerning the opposite sex, and these rules were very often felt to be helpful.

Despite the presence of a number of sexual health resources in Yarmouth, most participants were able to name only one or two, indicating a lack of awareness among youth about these resources. Concern about privacy is a big concern among teens in Yarmouth and can play a role in preventing youth from accessing sexual health services. Location of services also was reported to have an impact on whether or not services are being sought.

Sexual health education comes mainly through Personal Development and Relationships (PDR) sexual health classes at school, discussions with parents, guardians and siblings, and friends/peers, church groups and from information found through internet searches. Though some participants indicated that there were concerns with PDR, it is also clear that for many this is a beneficial program.

When asked if they think teen pregnancy has come to be seen as 'acceptable' or 'normal' in Yarmouth, nearly all participants stated "no". However, many youth qualified their answers with statements to the effect of "it is becoming more common though" and their responses to other questions indicate that a sense of 'normalcy' is present, though it is not a strong one.

Interview participants indicated the need to make it easier for young people to be healthy with respect to their sexuality. Several suggestions for actions which could be taken to improve youth sexual health were made. These included establishing a youth centre, increased awareness of services, enhanced access to birth control, extending sexual health education into high school and finding ways to involve parents more in helping young people with their sexual health.

The project will continue by conducting focus groups with three separate groups of parents, educators and health care professionals in Yarmouth over the next few months to look at the findings from the adolescent interviews. The focus groups will be followed by surveys of both students and youth not in school, scheduled for 2009. The surveys will include questions about risk behaviours and influencing factors which can lead to teenage pregnancy.

After the survey data has been analyzed, additional focus groups will be conducted with youth and adults representing key areas [parents, educators, and health care professionals]. Participants will be asked to consider all the research findings to that point, and identify what they see as the most important factors relating to adolescent risk taking behaviours. Discussion of the potential for community level action on such factors to decrease risk-taking among youth will be an important part of these focus groups.

Finally, a two day facilitated workshop in 2010 will involve the Yarmouth Working Group for the Prevention of Teen Pregnancy, researchers and community members selected for their work in youth programming and their insight with respect to youth sexual health. The workshop will lead to recommendations for preventive interventions.

Project partners include Dalhousie University, South West Health, physicians, Tri-County Regional School Board, Yarmouth County Community Health Board, Tri-County Women's Resource Centre, Université Sainte-Anne, St. Mary's University, the Tri-County Pregnancy Care Centre, Community Services, Tri-County Sexual Health Centre, RCMP Yarmouth detachment, parents and youth.