Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Brenda's Not Havin' A Baby

How bout' some good news for a change?

I tune my radio to WOL 1450AM, Radio One's flagship black talk station here in DC pretty much all the time. Since I started listening to the station back in the mid-90's, this one particular public service announcement that plays about 45 times a day always seems to get my attention. It rattles off some stats about the horrid state of teen pregnancy in the District and states that the non-profit running the ad, the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, aims to cut the rate of teen pregnancy in half by the year 2005. Since it's 07', and that damn commercial is still running every hour, I figured this little goal came and went.

Not so fast.

Teen pregnancy and birth rates have dropped sharply across the Washington region in the past decade, with the District cutting its numbers by more than half to historic lows.

Arlington and Prince George's counties also have recorded striking decreases in both rates, which are among the most important indicators of children's well-being. And in virtually every jurisdiction, the trajectories have been particularly marked among African American teens, closing much of a once-intractable gap with white rates.

The District has accomplished dramatic improvement. In 1996, its pregnancy rate for the same age group was 164.5 per 1,000. Appalled by the triple digits, a coalition of nonprofit groups and city agencies began reaching out to various communities, holding public discussions and trying to teach parents how to talk to their children about love, sex and relationships.

"The city was remarkably unified," recalled Brenda Rhodes Miller, executive director of the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Advocates vowed to reduce the rate to the mid-70s by 2005. Instead, as statistics released this month show, it plunged to 64.4. The reduction in the birthrate paralleled that.

Rhodes Miller's new goal is "to cut that 64 in half. A double-digit teen pregnancy rate for the nation's capital is just not acceptable," she said.

With a 42.1 teen birth rate, Washington, DC is only slightly higher than the national rate of 40.4 per 1,000 girls 15 to 19 years old for the first time in many years.
You may be wondering, "who cares?". Well, here's why it's important.
In a country with the worst rates in the industrialized world, officials have focused on teen pregnancies and births because of their distressing, lifelong ramifications.

Adolescent mothers frequently compromise not only their health but also their future, dropping out of school and struggling financially. Their babies are at greater risk for a host of problems, including low birth weight and abuse, neglect and poor academic performance.
I'm sure some of my more skeptical readers will look at this (much like they did my More Black Men in Yale Than Jail post) and say, "so what?", but I beg to differ. With all the bad news about things happening in our communities, why not celebrate the small victories? The tremendous progress this organization made on such a serious social issue should be applauded, even while acknowledging that there's still lots of work to be done. And while much of this progress can be attributed to increased access to birth control, I think the mentoring component of the program is just as important.

In short, this shows what can be accomplished when people:

1) Pick a well defined problem.
2) Devise a well defined solution.
3) Establish well defined, reasonable, and quantifiable metrics for success.
4) Find the right corporate sponsors to fund the whole thing.
5) Stick to the plan, despite skeptics (like me) who think it's a pipe dream.

Kudos to the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. I hope our "civil rights organizations" are taking note.

Teen Pregnancy, Birth Rates Plummet Across D.C. Region [WaPost]

D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy Website

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