Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Teenage Pregnancy: Does Geography Equal Destiny?

On Thursday, June 19, DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy sponsored a panel discussion entitled "Growing Up East of the River--Does Geography Equal Destiny?" The forum featured panelists Wendell Felder (ANC Commissioner, Ward 7), Robert McCartney (Columnist, The Washington Post), Michael Perry (Partner, PerryUndem Research and Communication), and Khadijah Tribble (Principal Consultant, Ground Game LLC). The panel was moderated by Meymo Lyons of WAMU-FM.

The forum was a result of efforts that started fifteen years ago when a group of local foundations and DC Campaign sponsored a study of teen pregnancy in the District. Since this study was published, the rate of teen pregnancy in DC has sharply decreased. In wards 1 through 6, the total number of teen births dropped by nearly half—from 710 in 1997 to 364 in 2011. In wards 7 and 8, however, the number rose over that period, from 473 to 508. In 2011, data from the Department of Health indicated that Ward 7 had 215 teen births and Ward 8 had 293 births.

Panelists at the forum offered insightful perspectives and comments on the fact that wards 7 and 8 continue to struggle with high teen birth rates. Panelists indicated how a "sexually charged" environment surrounds teenagers from everything from music lyrics to the conversation of their peers. Additionally, a lack of activities plagues the teens in wards 7 and 8. As one pregnant high school student said earlier this year, "Uptown . . . they have . . . activities they can focus their mind more off of sex. I mean, everybody is going to think about sex. But I feel like they can focus their mind on something else."

Additionally, there are gaps in knowledge regarding contraception as well as differing perceptions of risk in wards 7 and 8. Panelists encouraged mothers to talk about love and relationships with their children and to overcome any "awkwardness" that may be a part of the conversation.

To lower teen birth rates in wards 7 and 8, the most recent study conducted in DC suggests the solution is to solve broader, persistent problems, such as broken families, unemployment,and especially the lack of education and various social services. The panelists agreed and recommended a holistic approach that includes female empowerment as a focus. As one panelist stated, "There are some beautiful things and beautiful people east of the river." Helping one another recognize their assets and boost their self-esteem is essential to not only lowering teen birth rates but for also raising morale in DC.

To read more, check out the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy online.

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