Efforts to curtail teen pregnancy pay off with declining birth rates
Teen birth rates are falling across the nation, including in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
The new data show the biggest declines from 2007 to 2011, the last year of the report. Experts say, since then, many programs have lost federal and state support.
"Now that those commitments might be waning financially, we have some concerns," said Lisa Aslan, director of family planning at the Children's Aid Society in New York. "This is a proven strategy to get kids to college, so we need to show our commitment to that through programs that are evidence based."
In the last decade, lawmakers and funders also have embraced pregnancy-prevention programs as a means to end generational poverty, Aslan said.
And over those 10 years, experts have become more dedicated, not just to working to avoid unplanned pregnancies but also to measuring the results of their efforts to pinpoint what really works, Aslan said.
National health officials said several trends might be driving the drop in teen births.
Many young people are delaying their fist sexual encounter; when they do have sex, more teens are using contraception. Sexually active teenagers are also more likely to use two types of birth control — condoms and a hormonal contraceptive, according to data from the National Survey of Family Growth.
Aslan said her organization offers sexual health care that is "friendly and welcoming" and doesn't shame young people for the decisions they are making.
"One of our major outcomes is really focused on ensuring that if a patient is sexually active, they are leaving our health center with an effective birth control method," Aslan said.
Sites across the country have adopted programs designs pioneered at the Children's Aid Society.
The West End Neighborhood House in Wilmington, Del., offers the Carrera Youth Achievement Program. It's an "above the waist" approach that works to give teens more positive activities, career skills and academic achievements.
Rosemary Frasso, a public health researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, said she was excited to see that the gap in birth rates between Hispanic teens and others has narrowed.
"So not only are we making a difference in reducing the rate of teen childbearing, but we are also ensuring that whatever programs we are putting into place are really accessible across the board to minority and marginalized populations," Frasso said.
"Declines in rates were steepest for Hispanic teenagers," across the nation, the report said.
In New Jersey, for example, the teen birth rate per 1,000 girls was 59.2 in 2007. That number dropped to 41.6 in 2011.