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Anti-teen pregnancy effort goes to Web

TIMES STAFF WRITER
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CANTON — The St. Lawrence County Health Initiative is taking the fight against teen pregnancy to the Internet.


Armed with a $125,000 state grant, the Health Initiative wants to make information about reproductive health and pregnancy available to teens 24 hours a day, said Kellie J. Hitchman, youth services director.


"In an effort to make a big county small, we're looking to focus on the online aspect of the program," Ms. Hitchman said. "It's a way for people to access information at a time when it's convenient for them."


The program, dubbed Teens HELP (Helping Each other with Life's Problems), also will target parents and school faculty, she said.


"The website will include things like how to talk to your kids to make it more comfortable," Ms. Hitchman said. "I think a lot of people think they have the talk once and that's good enough, but it has to be an ongoing, open communication between parents and teens. If teens aren't comfortable talking to their parents, this gives them another source."


The program will be administered via an interactive website. She said the offerings will include online seminars and the ability to direct questions to educators.


"We also want to set up a confidential space, a computer with a webcam, so if they have questions about reproductive health services or teen pregnancy they can access our virtual drop-in center," she said.


Ms. Hitchman said 25.9 percent of all births in St. Lawrence County are to teen mothers. That's slightly higher than the state rate of 25.1 percent.


"The level of education and poverty in our area play a role," she said. "We're really looking to create employment opportunities and educational opportunities for people so they can overcome these barriers and escape the generational cycle of teen pregnancy. We see a lot of repeat teen moms. Grandma was a teen mom, then mom, and now the daughter is going to be."


The Health Initiative is hiring a company to build the website. Ms. Hitchman said the organization also is looking to teach a class on reproductive health at St. Lawrence-Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services technical centers.


"By educating everyone, we don't necessarily have to turn it into something acceptable, but if a teen is sexually active, we have to get them to these services so we don't have an unintended pregnancy," she said.

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