The 1990s have brought some good news regarding teen pregnancy in the United States: after two decades of increasing teen pregnancy and birth rates, the numbers have declined. Overall, the teen birth rate declined by 16 percent from 1991 to 1997, with all states recording a decline in the birth rate of 15- to 19-year-olds. It is the sixth year in a row that the teen birth rate has declined. Nevertheless, 4 out of 10 American girls get pregnant at least once before they turn 20, leading to nearly one million teen pregnancies a year. Clearly, teen pregnancy remains a serious problem, and the economic, social, and personal costs for teens, their children, and society are great. As a nation, we are at a severe competitive disadvantage when our teen pregnancy and birth rates are at least double — even triple — those of other industrialized nations.
Communities around the country increasingly recognize that helping teens avoid pregnancy can’t be accomplished by any single program or strategy. Because the causes of teen pregnancy are complicated and overlapping, solutions must have many parts and approaches. This means doing things differently: getting new people and organizations involved, committing for the long term, and measuring carefully the effectiveness of programs. This three-volume publication, Get Organized: A Guide to Preventing Teen Pregnancy, is meant to be a practical manual, a toolkit of sorts, for people at the state and local levels who are interested in taking action to prevent teen pregnancy in their communities. It covers a lot of ground — from strategies for collecting basic data and for reaching out to religious leaders to practical advice about how to raise money and conduct program evaluation. Yet it remains easy to read and simple to use, with many examples from promising programs around the country. We hope it will be useful as communities unite to address this issue and to design programs that are right for them.
Get Organized was developed primarily for those creating a state or local coalition or strategy to prevent teen pregnancy, although anyone interested in developing a single, small program to help teens avoid pregnancy should find valuable information in these chapters. Several overarching principles bind these chapters together:
- Multiple, mutually complementary strategies are more likely to make a difference. There are no easy answers to the problem of teen pregnancy.
- Involving new partners, like the business community, or traditional partners in new ways enhances any prevention strategy.
- Preventing teen pregnancy requires long-term, intense effort. One six-week program will not have much lasting effect, nor will a couple of classroom hours. And, because a new crop of teenagers arrives on the scene every year, prevention efforts must be constantly reinvented.
- Communities can unite around the need to address teen pregnancy without expecting unanimity about ways to prevent it. Different organizations and members of the community can adopt different strategies to reach the same end— fewer pregnant teens. Sometimes strategies even seem to conflict with each other, but that is not necessarily a problem. Teen pregnancy is a complicated — even messy — problem, and “messy” strategies can often be useful.
- Parents are important influences on their children’s decisions about sexual behavior. They should be supported in their roles and included in planning and developing strategies to prevent teen pregnancy. And, needless to say, involving teens themselves — the “target audience” — is always essential.
- Focusing on boys and young men is critical to any effort to prevent teen pregnancy. Girls are indeed the ones who get pregnant, but it takes two to cause a pregnancy.
As the accompanying matrix shows [only available in printed version], Get Organized is divided into three complementary volumes:
Volume I: Focusing on the Kids opens with an overview of the promising programs that can help prevent teen pregnancy. The other chapters explain how to tailor programs to stages of adolescent development, create interventions for girls, involve boys and young men in prevention efforts, and involve young people themselves in developing and implementing programs.
Volume II: Involving the Key Players focuses on the roles of traditional participants in prevention efforts, like schools and health care professionals, as well as some often overlooked players, including faith leaders, the business community, and parents.
Volume III: Making It Happen concentrates on the logistics of developing a state or local coalition — or any major effort — to prevent teen pregnancy, including involving the community, assessing the needs of the community, planning, fundraising, working with the media, evaluating initiatives, and dealing with conflict.
Each chapter of Get Organized follows a similar format. The tab divider briefly describes how the information is organized and lists a handful of the chapter’s key ideas. Throughout the chapters, readers will find easy-to-read boxes, checklists, and nuggets of factual information. Boxes labeled “Research Notes” offer useful findings from published studies. “Field Notes” offer the best advice from practitioners in the field. “Case in Point” boxes illustrate specific issues with real-life examples. Every chapter concludes with a list of helpful references and resources. While the chapters and volumes of Get Organized certainly work in tandem, each individual chapter is also meant to stand on its own as a resource.
Many talented people have worked on Get Organized, and they are recognized by name in the Acknowledgments, but I would like to thank, in particular, our partners and funders, the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Johnson & Johnson Family of Companies, for their support.
Good work is being done around the country to prevent teen pregnancy. We at the National Campaign hope that Get Organized serves both to catalyze new initiatives and reinvigorate existing ones at the state and local levels.
Isabel V. Sawhill
National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy
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