Despite the recent decline in the teen birth rate, teen pregnancy remains a significant problem in this country. Most teen pregnancies are unintended. Each year, about 200,000 teens aged 17 and younger have children. Their babies are often low birth weight and have disproportionately high infant mortality rates. They are also far more likely to be poor. About 80 percent of the children born to unmarried teenagers who dropped out of high school are poor. In contrast, just 8 percent of children born to married high school graduates aged 20 or older are poor.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has responded to a call from the President and Congress for a national strategy to prevent out-of-wedlock teen pregnancies and to a directive, under the new welfare law, to assure that at least 25 percent of communities in this country have teen pregnancy prevention programs in place.
Building on our previous work in this area, our national strategy is designed to:
I. Strengthen the national response to prevent out-of-wedlock teen pregnancies.
II. Support and encourage adolescents to remain abstinent.
Our national strategy will build on existing public and private-sector efforts and on initiatives in the new welfare law by helping to provide the tools needed to develop more strategic and targeted approaches to preventing out-of-wedlock teen pregnancies. It will strengthen ongoing efforts across the nation by increasing opportunities through welfare reform; supporting promising approaches; building partnerships; improving data collection, research, and evaluation; and disseminating information on innovative and effective practices.
This strategy will also send the strongest possible message to teens that postponing sexual activity, staying in school, and preparing for work are the right things to do. In particular, our new Girl Power! public education campaign will engage the Department's teen pregnancy prevention programs in efforts to promote abstinence among 9- to 14-year-old girls.
As we move forward in implementing the national strategy, we will adhere to and promote the five principles that research and experience tell us are key to promising community efforts:
- Parental and Adult Involvement: Parents and other adult mentors must play key roles in encouraging young people to avoid early pregnancy and to stay in school.
- Abstinence: Abstinence and personal responsibility must be primary messages of prevention programs.
- Clear Strategies for the Future: Young people must be given clear connections and pathways to college or jobs that give them hope and a reason to stay in school and avoid pregnancy.
- Community Involvement: Public and private-sector partners throughout communities, including parents, schools, business, media, health and human services providers, and religious organizations, must work together to develop comprehensive strategies.
- Sustained Commitment: Real success requires a sustained commitment to the young person over a long period of time.