WITH teenage pregnancy rates continuing to rise in nearly every state in in the United States, does anyone out there offer new answers for reversing this costly and most damaging of social problems?
Meet Hal Donofrio from Maryland and Michael Carrera from New York. Both men brought innovative answers to a panel on teen pregnancy here at the National Governors' Association meeting. And the short, old/new answer behind their differing and successful programs is abstinence, along with plenty of counseling.
Because 42 percent of all single mothers receiving welfare are, or have been, teenage mothers, the pregnancy problem is inextricably linked with welfare reform, poverty, and educating teenagers to be sexually responsible.
The states are on the front lines in trying to reverse the increase in teen pregnancy. In Virginia, Gov. George Allen reports that in 1991 families headed by teenage mothers cost the state $285 million in Aid to Families With Dependent Children (AFDC), food stamps, and Medicaid costs.
``The hope in the problem,'' says Mr. Donofrio, director of Campaign for Our Children (CFOC) in Maryland, ``can be seen in a Maryland study which found that 80 percent of all 14 year-olds are not yet sexually active.''
But from there on, pregnancy is common among teenagers everywhere in the United States, regardless of race. In 1987, Maryland launched an ``abstinence'' program in the media and schools aimed directly at children nine to 14 years old. Combining private and public money, CFOC produced a series of hard-hitting, creative television and radio commercials, and billboards with abstinence messages.
In middle schools throughout Maryland, lesson plans, posters, and videos were used in classrooms, and with parents encouraging abstinence and the reasons for postponing sexual activity. As a result, Maryland is one of only two states to experience a drop in teen pregnancies, from 9.1 percent in 1987 to 8.2 percent in 1991. Pregnancies have dropped by about 5 percent a year in Maryland in the last few years.
For Michael Carrera, director of the National Adolescent Sexuality Training Center of the Children's Aid Society in New York, the calamitous statistics connected with teenagers today are the real ``national debt.''
``Each day in the US, 2,700 teenagers become pregnant,'' he says, ``and 600 teenagers a day contract a [sexual] disease. In terms of the national debt, these figures have faces and families, and talents that may never bloom.''
Started in 1985, the Teen Primary Pregnancy Prevention Program, is a long-range educational program focusing on helping young people, and their families, to realize their potential in life as well as understand aspects of sex.
``The most powerful contraceptive in the world is knowing you are a valuable person,'' says Mr. Carrera. The program combines a 15-week educational experience about sex and sexual issues with discussions about responsible love, values, and intimacy. There is also a job club, a career-awareness program, tutorials in education in small groups, and a sports program.
Students who participate in the program and receive high school diplomas are granted automatic admission to Hunter College in New York.
Although no controlled studies of the program have been done, Carrera notes that it started in 1985 with 22 teenagers and 12 parents. Today the program involves about 200 youths and 75 parents.