Tuesday afternoon Council Member Michael Brown took to the steps of the Wilson Building to bring attention to the on-going crisis of teen pregnancy in the District. Though DCAYA does not cover the issue of teen pregnancy in the same we do our four main issue areas, teen pregnancy is a large contributor to many of the issues we do cover.
According to the DC Department of Health Statistics the 2008 teen pregnancy rate was 61.4 pregnancies per 1,000 girls 15 to 19. As noted in the graph below from our friends at the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy the District has historically battled rates well above the national average.
This is bad news for District teenagers for several reasons. High school graduation rates in the District are below 50% and at least some part of that is due to the high number of teen pregnancies in the District. Remember how hard it was to get out of bed every day for 8:00am homeroom in high school or how difficult it was to juggle homework, extracurricular activities and a social life when you were a teen? Imagine having to do that with a child to take care of. Traditional high schools do not offer options for child care or flexible scheduling that is conducive to young parents continuing their lives as students and once they drop out few options exists to re-engage young people with educational options.
The current rate of unemployment for 16 to 19 year olds is an abysmal 50%. Although the rate of the unemployed youth with children is hard to estimate what we do know is that the same issues of lack of affordable childcare options and the demanding schedules that force pregnant and parenting youth to drop out of education can also prevent them from entering or remaining in the workforce. Pregnant and parenting teens are at an extreme risk of being low-income or chronically unemployed throughout their lifetimes.
When teens and young adults have low levels of educational attainment and are also low-skilled and unable to find unemployment to support themselves and their families the downward spiral often continues. In DCAYA’s 2011 Homeless and Unstably Housed Youth Survey, 47% of the almost 500 youth who self- identified as being homeless or unstably housed reported having at least one child, with many respondents having more than one. While a good number (78%) of those individuals had physical custody of their child/children, only 41% had obtained a high school diploma or GED and only 20% were currently employed.
It is clear that adolescents are not setting themselves up for success when they engage in the risky behaviors that lead to teen pregnancy, however, at the end of the day communities pay the price for the poor judgment of teens in this regard. According to DCCP, 50% of people who receive temporary assistance for needy families (TANF) started families when they were teenagers and approximately three-quarters of the children placed in foster care were born to teen parents. Sons of teen mothers are three times more likely to enter the criminal justice system at some point in their lives. All of these systems and public benefits are very costly to taxpayers and even at their best are only treating the symptoms of poverty…not the causes.
DCAYA is happy to have both the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy as well as Council Member Michael Brown as allies in the fight to allocate more resources to the prevention of teenage pregnancy and related challenges that prevent youth from completing a successful transition into adulthood.
For more information on the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy please visit their website at dccampaign.org.