A campaign worth noticing

How can we reduce poverty, school failure, child abuse and neglect, crime, violence and increase workforce preparation, all while saving the city money? Preventing teen pregnancy has an effect on all of these areas, and the D.C. City Council is taking notice. In a joint press conference with our partner, the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, several councilmembers spoke about the negative effects of teen pregnancy and how we need to do more in prevention. They say young people need to learn early about the potential consequences of becoming a teen parent, and that this is a community problem with effects that reach far beyond each teen parent and child. For news coverage, see the following stories from myfoxdc, News Channel 8 and the Georgetown Patch.

Each year, about 1,000 babies in the District are born to teen mothers—that’s 12% of all births in the city. D.C.’s rates of teen pregnancy and teen births have decreased overall since 2000, but have risen slightly over the past several years. For 2008, the District’s teen birth rate was 50.3 births per 1,000 teen girls. D.C.’s rates are slightly higher than the nation and generally follow the same U.S. trend, but in recent years the difference has widened.

For more data, including breakouts by ward, race/ethnicity and other age groups, see our KIDS COUNT data center.

Teen pregnancy prevention efforts have wide-ranging effects—for teens, children and the community—and those effects extend to future generations. Children of teen parents are more likely to become teen parents themselves, so the effect is multi-generational. Teen pregnancy prevention also means better lives for children, and it can save money on public services down the road. In the District, more than 50% of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients had children as teenagers, and 67% of children placed in foster care were born to teen parents. For additional resources on teen pregnancy and sexual activity trends, see ChildTrends.

What does prevention look like, and what are the next steps? Teen pregnancy prevention efforts include:
•    expanding/strengthening sexual health education,
•    reducing/delaying sexual activity,
•    increasing contraceptive use,
•    strengthening families and
•    improving academic engagement and performance.

To be successful, these efforts need to involve both teen women and teen men.

The slogan of the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy is that it’s time to change the conversation, but teen pregnancy is only part of the conversation for our community. The other part is how to support teen parents and their children better. One strategy at work in the District (and in other cities, including New York, Memphis, and Cincinnati) is home visiting, where a parent receives regular visits from a health professional before a child’s birth and during the early years of childhood. Home visits have well-documented positive effects on birth outcomes, child health and safety, educational preparation and achievement and save taxpayers money through reduced health and welfare costs.

Michael A. Brown and the D.C. City Council have highlighted why we need to reduce teen pregnancy. We hope the Council will stay involved and support funding for both prevention and family support.