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Teen Pregnancy: A Major Problem

Teen Pregnancy Proposed cuts to teen pregnancy programs bode ill for Hartford

The Hartford Courant

February 28, 2011

It is encouraging that government leaders are trying to rein in spending, but they should do so with a caveat: Don't cut that which will cause greater expense or more human misery.

One example is last week's vote by the U.S. House of Representatives to cut all funding for the Teenage Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, which assists more than 100 programs across the country, including Hartford's.

This is on top of the House's vote last week to defund Planned Parenthood. The vote was punishment for a video sting by an anti-abortion group showing a clinic worker eager to help an actor posing as a pimp and his supposed underage sex workers find abortions. The agency alerted federal officials about the (fake) sex ring and fired the worker. Nevertheless, its critical work in helping low-income women and teens with sexually transmitted diseases and family planning (federal funds do not provide abortions) is now at risk.

Teen pregnancy is a major societal problem, one that gets nowhere near the attention it deserves. If a teen mom is poor and unmarried at time of delivery, she has a high probability of remaining poor and unmarried for life and raising her children in poverty, according to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

The Price Of Teen Pregnancy

The children of teen mothers are more likely than children of older mothers to fall behind developmentally, drop out of school, be subjected to neglect and abuse, and end up in foster care. The daughters of teen mothers are three times more likely to become teen mothers themselves. The sons of adolescent mothers are 2.7 times more likely to be incarcerated.

And all of this is hugely expensive. Teen childbearing costs taxpayers $9.1 billion annually, according to the campaign.

Given all of this, it was very good news when the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report earlier this month showing that the national birth rate for teenagers in 2009 was 39.1 births per 1,000 females 15 to 19 the lowest rate recorded since teen birth statistics were first collected in the 1940s. Connecticut, with 21 births per 1,000 teenage girls in 2009, ranked the fourth-lowest in the country, behind New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts.

A major reason this part of the country did well, experts say, is the availability of solid, research-based educational programs. The National Campaign says these programs have reduced teen pregnancy and saved billions of dollars in the process. This is no time to stop, especially in cities such as Hartford.

Hartford's Particular Challenge

In the early 1990s, Hartford was reporting more than 700 births to teens each year. The Hartford Action Plan started a program, Breaking the Cycle, to address the problem. Initiatives such as Always on Saturday, aimed at (oft-forgotten) males, and Postponing Sexual Involvement, which starts with youngsters in the fifth grade, got the number of teen births down to about 400.

This is real progress, but there is clearly work to do. Hartford still has the highest rate of teen pregnancy in the state. The rate of 72.9 teen births per 1,000 teenage girls in 2008 was way above the state and national averages.

Despite this, Hartford Action Plan has undergone budget cuts over the last several years that nearly put it out of business. Last year, it and the city were awarded a five-year, $4.5 million grant to fight teen pregnancy from the federal program that is now threatened with elimination. If this money doesn't materialize, teen pregnancies will rise and so will the toll in misery. Girls and young women in the city desperately need sex education and access to health care facilities, and they need the hope of a career and a future.

In 2009, nearly 20 percent of the city's youngsters entering kindergarten were the children of teen mothers, according to Hartford Action Plan. You wonder why the city has problems?

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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