Suffolk sees drop in teen pregnancies, but there’s still work to be done

By Megan Naftali

Teen Pregnancy in Suffolk County decreased by a little over 50 percent from 2007 to 2016, but there is still a need for education programs and support for expecting youth, according to the Suffolk County Teen Pregnancy Advisory Board, which met Sept. 17 by Zoom.

“I would say historically [teen pregnancy in Suffolk County] has been an issue,” said Cynthia Amato, chairwoman of the board and director of youth and adolescent services at the Economic Opportunity Council of Suffolk. “Years ago in 2010…there was a task force prior to the board establishment who did a needs assessment and focus groups and really saw the need in the county.”

In 2007, there were 2,012 pregnancies among teenage girls ages 15 to 19, and in 2008, there were 1,827, according to the Suffolk County Task Force on Teen Pregnancy report released in 2011.

More recently, the total number of pregnancies among teens ages 15 to 19 in Suffolk dwindled to 931 in 2016, according to the county Department of Health.

“However,” Amato said, “there are still pockets of communities where the rates are higher.”

Brentwood, Patchogue, Riverhead, Central Islip, Bellport and Smithtown currently have some of the higher teen pregnancy rates, according to Michelle Gjuraj, director of education and training at Planned Parenthood Hudson Peconic. Gjuraj was not present at the Teen Pregnancy Advisory Board meeting.

A big topic of discussion during the meeting was how to support and educate teens, especially those who are expecting. One way in which the board does this is by holding a summit.

“The summit is like a conference. We have historically done a teen parent conference for professionals who work with teen parents throughout Suffolk County and for the teen parents themselves,” Amato said. “We bring resources and guest speakers and keynote speakers and information to these individuals to better support them and then better support the professionals supporting them.”

Last year’s summit was held virtually because of the coronavirus pandemic, and a recording can be accessed through the Suffolk County Legislature under “Reports and Resources.”

The next summit will be held this coming spring. It has not yet been decided whether it will be held virtually or in person. The specifics are yet to come.

Aside from the summit, the Teen Pregnancy Advisory Board offers programs and guidance to Suffolk teens.

“A lot of youth that we educate, we provide an evidence-based program to, and when we provide that program, we also give them all of the information on every one of our adolescent medicine clinics, as well as Planned Parenthood and other clinics in the area where they could go for sexual reproductive health services,” said Maria McCue, an education specialist at Stony Brook University Medical Center.

Planned Parenthood also offers programs to aid teens who need help regarding sexual health issues.

“There [are] a lot of really amazing services that Planned Parenthood offers,” Gjuraj said. “When it comes to family planning services, there’s also education programs that I think not everyone is aware of. There’s so much preventative care that we do when it comes to cancer screenings and gender affirming care… We provide free condoms, birth control education, advocacy, you name it. We try to do as much as we can to empower our communities so that they can have the healthiest reproductive lives possible.”

The next Suffolk County Teen Pregnancy Advisory Board meeting will take place Friday, Nov. 19. It may be held in person for board members. Others wanting to take part must fill out a form on the Suffolk County Legislature website requesting to participate in the Zoom meeting.