Combating Teen Pregnancy
Preventing pregnancy among teenagers has always been a part of my platform. While reports frequently cite a decline in teen pregnancy throughout the city, statistics show that this is not the case east of the river. While having a child can be a joy, having one as a teenager can make progressing in life incredibly difficult, and not just for ill-equipped young mothers. It also puts a burden on the families and communities that have to help support them. But, while being a teen mom is challenging, it is not all doom, especially with organizations that work to not only prevent teen pregnancy, but include a support system for teen mothers.
Based in Ward 7, the Elizabeth Ministry works with young women, many who are teen moms who have aged out of the foster care system. The organization, which includes two 15-unit cooperative apartments, works with the young women by focusing on education, employment, financial literacy and family and child development. During a visit to the Elizabeth Ministry, I was able to meet a few of its residents and was proud to learn that being a teen mom did not hinder their goal of finishing high school and with the help of the Elizabeth Ministry, they are able to push further with their goals and on their way to being self-sufficient.
I also speak for the great work that Crittenton does in our high schools east of the river with their “Sneakers & Pearls” program. The program addresses the issue of teen pregnancy through education on prevention, while at the same time providing support for teenage mothers and educating them further to delay additional pregnancies. Notably, 100 percent of the program’s participants graduate from high school, with the majority attending college.
Stories of successful progress of teenage mothers are a testament that the work of organizations like the Elizabeth Ministry and Crittenton are needed. In prior years I allocated money towards teen pregnancy prevention and for fiscal year 2016, I continued to do so. As the Chair of the Committee on Health and Human Services, I provided $569,000 in grant funding to continue supporting programs that have a history of promoting the healthy development of girls attending public and charter schools in grades 9-12 located in parts of the city with the highest rates of teen pregnancy. Additionally, with the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy as a lead agency, I provided $1.3 million to teen pregnancy programs that have a proven track record of decreasing teen pregnancy through their programs. These funds replace federal grants and private funds that ended last fiscal year.
Also included in the budget for fiscal year 2016, is $157,000 in grant funds to support teen peer educators who provide sexual health information and condoms to youth, with the understanding that while adults often want to do all that they can to help, that message is often more effectively delivered when it comes from someone their own age. Through such a program, teens can ask questions and get accurate information from other teens that are properly educated on these life-changing topics.
Going a step further, this year I put forth legislation that requires the Mayor to create a program that serves minor parents. Currently there is no program to serve minor parents without requiring them to enter “the system.” When given a safe place to sleep, and provided with appropriately tailored reunification services, minor parents can be reunited with their families of origin within a month. With this program, I was able to fill a large gap in services by providing $500,000 for this very vulnerable population.
As a legislator, I want to do all that I can to educate teens and prevent them from becoming a statistic. I commend the work all of the organizations that continue to educate our youth on sexual health and preventing teen pregnancy. Through education, support and a genuine outpouring of love, we can help re-write the narrative of a teen who is considering sex or who has become pregnant.