Teenage pregnancy service fears in East of England

Teachers and sexual health workers fear that changes to services for young people could spark a rise in teenage pregnancies in the East of England.

They claim cuts to funding for teenage pregnancy units (TPUs) could reverse what has been a steady decline over the last decade.

In 1999 the Labour government started a nationwide drive to halve the number of teenage pregnancies in England and Wales by 2010.

It injected £260m into the project which saw teenage pregnancy units set up in most parts of the country.

Individual TPUs were set up across the country to co-ordinate specialist work in schools and youth services to reduce the number of young women becoming pregnant in their teens.

Their work included giving teachers better skills and resources to improve lessons and supporting youth workers giving sexual health advice.

New figures released this week show that the number of babies conceived by under 18s in the East of have dropped from 38 per 1,000 in 1998 to 31 in 2008.

That is below the average for England and Wales, which has fallen from 47 per 1,000 to 41.

But despite the general decline, there are pockets of the region in which teenage pregnancy is far higher than average.

In Peterborough, for example, the latest statistics show 51 girls aged 15-17 per 1,000 conceived - a drop from 58 in 1998 - while in the Waveney district of Suffolk, the rate has risen from 43 per 1,000 in 1998 to 47 in 2008.

'Complete reversal fear'

The overall rate for Suffolk, however, has dropped by 16% over the same time scale.

In Great Yarmouth the rate of teenage pregnancies was 60 per 1,000 in 1998, falling to 58 in 2008.

In the county of Norfolk as a whole, however, the rate fell by 15% 2008 - one of the largest annual drops recorded nationally since the start of the project.

Both Norfolk and Suffolk County Councils are to disband their TPUs because of funding cuts.

Both said, however, that services would continue to be delivered by other parts of the council or by partner organisations, such as the NHS.

Jade Alexander, of the charity GFS Platform - which runs a centre for teenage mothers in Great Yarmouth, said the end of funding for TPUs, would have a negative impact.

"We might see a complete reversal (in teenage pregnancy rates) and see it go back to what it was years ago," she warned.

Simon Oldfield, head of religious studies and citizenship at Northgate High School in Dereham, also regretted the closure of the TPU.

"While we will go on delivering this education (on relationships) and engaging with young people, the loss of support is a real shame and we feel that the system will be weakened," he said.

Graham Newman, portfolio holder for young people's services at Conservative-controlled Suffolk County Council, said it was unfortunate that the funding had run out but that preventing teenage pregnancy and supporting young mothers remained a high priority for the council.

A spokesman for Norfolk County Council said work would continue within the county, building on the good practice established by the TPU, and they would still work jointly with the NHS on prevention and support.

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