It’s midafternoon and Heidy Ortiz, 18, is done with her coursework at Amarosa Academy. She walks just a few hundred feet to the day care center at the far end of the Santa Rosa alternative school campus and gently wakes up her son, Dominic.
Since giving birth to Dominic two years ago, the cheerful, hardworking student has taken on a battery of high school courses at Amarosa, including English, science, culinary arts, social studies and math. Graduating is a priority for Ortiz, one that would only be complicated by a having a second child at her age.
“I want a better future for myself and my son,” she said. “When he’s in school, I don’t want him to say, ‘You didn’t go to school, so why do I have to?’ ”
Ortiz is on birth control to prevent a second pregnancy. That decision, combined with many teens avoiding pregnancy altogether, are among the key reasons Sonoma County continues to see dramatic declines in teen birth rates. Reproductive health experts say it’s also an affirmation of programs that provide access to contraceptives and education on sex and teen parenting.
Since the beginning of the millennium, teen birth rates have tumbled 64 percent in Sonoma County. For teen moms participating in a county program aimed at reducing repeat pregnancies and increasing graduation rates, the birth rate is between 0 and 1 percent.
“Unplanned teen pregnancy prevention requires many strategies,” said Tammy Brunk, assistant professor in the school of nursing at Sonoma State University. “Two measures that have demonstrated some success are contraceptive education programs focused on teens and providing access to contraception.”
Brunk, who did her doctoral study on teen pregnancy, said local teen birth rates reflect a national trend that shows ongoing declines among all racial and ethnic groups, though significant disparities between the groups still exist.
In Sonoma County, the birth rate for Latina teens was 18.2 births per 1,000 teens, compared to 3.4 births for white teens during the three-year period from 2015-2017. But for the period between 2000-2002, Latina teens had 76.5 births per 1,000 teens and white teens had a birth rate of 13.6.
Since then, birth rates have plunged 76 percent for Latina teens and 75 percent for white teens.
“This is public health at its best — it makes me really happy to see what we’ve been able to do in the past 20 years,” said Sonoma County Supervisor Shirlee Zane.
Studies show teen moms are less likely to finish high school, will earn less income than their peers, will more likely have daughters who become teen moms and have sons who are significantly more likely to become incarcerated, Zane said.
“Those are just some of the reasons the county has made reducing the incidence of teen pregnancies a high priority,” she said, adding that the entire community benefits by giving all teens the chance to live up to their potential.
While the county’s overall teen birth rate has declined dramatically, rates continue to be high in certain areas, such as Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood, said Kembly Mahiri, a supervising social worker for Teen Parent Connections, a program with the county Department of Health Services that helps teen moms and pregnant teens graduate from high school and further their education to become more self-sufficient.