Council chiefs plan to axe Stoke-on-Trent’s dedicated teenage pregnancy service – saying it is not doing enough to reduce the number of girls in the city falling pregnant.
Stoke-on-Trent City Council is looking at disbanding its STAR team and ‘mainstreaming’ responsibility for preventing teen conceptions across the wider support services for young people.
The proposal, which is part of the authority’s draft budget for 2021/22, would result in the loss of six jobs, saving £273,000-a-year.
Stoke-on-Trent currently has the 11th highest teen pregnancy rate in England and Wales – 30.9 conceptions per 1,000 girls aged 15 to 17. By comparison, the rate in Newcastle is 12.5, while in the Staffordshire Moorlands it is just 10.6.
While Stoke-on-Trent’s rate had fallen from a peak of 69 in 2007, the most recent figures show a slight increase.
Lorraine Beardmore, cabinet member for public health, told members of the adults and neighbourhoods scrutiny commitee that moving away from a specialist service might achieve better results.
She said: “The current model that we use is somewhat outdated. Several other authorities have already moved to the model that we’re suggesting, which will embed the work into early intervention services.
“This allows every contact to count, so it makes it everybody’s business to prevent teenage pregnancy. Public Health England are also a strong advocate for this system-wide approach.
“Recent figures do show a slight increase in teenage pregnancies, so I think now seems an opportune time for a change in the service.”
The STAR team works with young people aged 11 to 17 who are at risk of an unwanted teenage pregnancy, as well as young mums up to school leavers age.
Staff members give support and advice around delaying early sexual activity, accessing sexual health services for contraception, and healthy relationships, in both one-to-one and group sessions.
Commitee member Lee Wanger believes the STAR team has succeeded in reducing the city’s teen pregnancy rate, and so should be allowed to continue its work.
He said: “I remember a long time ago this service used to be provided on an adhoc basis in different ways. Teenage pregnancies were on the increase so we set up this specialist team to deal with that, and the specialist team seems to have been working, with the number of pregnancies going down.
“I always think that if it’s working and not broken, why are we trying to fix it? I think we should leave it as it is and let them continue with a specialist team.”
Mrs Beardmore said that while teen pregnancy rates in Stoke-on-Trent had fallen from their peak, the figures had now ‘plateaued’, suggesting that the service was ‘not working quite as well as it could do’, and a different approach was now needed.
She added: “It’s about integrating this into everybody’s work life, making every contact count for people who have contact with these young, vulnerable people.
“We are also in the process of recommissioning the sexual health offer, which will allow us to embed this offer into that service. We’re also remodelling the 0-19 service.”
The council’s aim is to reduce Stoke-on-Trent’s teen pregnancy rate to around 20 conceptions per 1,000, which is the average for similar cities.
Committee member Chandra Kanneganti supported the proposal.
He said: “Having a dedicated team is really good and it has had a good impact, but reducing teenage pregnancies should be everybody’s business. I think it’s about the whole health and social care system working collaboratively, and working across organisations is the best way to reduce teenage pregnancies.”
A public consultation on the council’s budget proposals will run until February 14. To have your say, visit https://www.stoke.gov.uk/budget2021