By CLAIRE ST. JOHN
Teen-age birth rates in California are going down, dropping below the nationwide average. And Tuolumne and Calaveras counties' numbers are even lower than that.
The numbers come from Maternity Before Maturity, a report released last month by the Public Policy Institute of California and based on the 2000 census.
It shows that national teen-birth numbers spiked in 1991.
That year in California, 73 teen-age girls out of every 1,000 gave birth. One in every eight 19-year-olds gave birth, the report shows, as did one in every 47 15-year-olds.
But California's teen-birth rate dropped about 40 percent between 1991 and 2000.
Statewide, there were 44 births among every 1,000 teen-age girls in 2000.
While the report does not offer statistics for the foothills, the state trend is being noticed locally by health departments and teen pregnancy program coordinators in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.
Teen birth rates in 2000 were 26 and 31 per 1,000 young girls for the two counties respectively.
"(The numbers) are definitely down in Tuolumne County," said Cal-SAFE teacher Beverly Britts, who teaches classes for pregnant teens and teen mothers. "In my particular classroom, I have 11 students."
About 10 years ago, there were 25 students in an average class, she said.
Students who were asked say their pregnancies were unplanned.
Adele Barone, job developer and employment counselor for Calaveras County's Cal-SAFE program has noticed a similar trend in her own classes.
"In 1997 we had 13, and each year it's declined," she said. "Only three or four pregnant teens or teen mothers are in the class this year."
California's lower numbers place the state just below the national teen birth average, falling from 11th highest among the 50 states to 21st.