Can Child Community Service Programs Help Curb Teen Pregnancy?

January 7, 2011

A new poll shows that most adults support pregnancy programs that go beyond abstinence education and incorporate innovative methods to get through to teens.

A new poll shows that most adults support pregnancy programs that go beyond abstinence education and incorporate innovative methods to get through to teens.

Despite decreases in the birth rate during the past 20 years, the US still has the highest teen birth rate among all industrialized countries. To address this public health concern, the US Department of Health and Human Services recently expanded funding for programs to help prevent teen pregnancy—and the support has been strong, according to a poll released by the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health.

The survey says that the majority of US adults are in favor of innovative programs to discourage teen pregnancy, such as requiring teen mothers and fathers to perform community service related to child care.

“Americans see teen pregnancy as a major health problem. They continue to support established ideas such as education about abstinence and birth control. But it is clear that they are ready to move beyond these traditional approaches to teen pregnancy prevention,” said Matthew Davis, MD, the poll’s director, in a statement. “The concept of a community service requirement is that it would allow teens to realize the demands of caring for young children, and to learn about key aspects of child development, enabling teens to be more successful parents.”

Davis said that community service programs also could incorporate on-the-job child care training in supervised environments, offering potential job opportunities to teen parents as well.

Poll results also show that over half of US adults strongly support requiring paternity testing for all pregnancies that use public funds to pay for mothers’ and children’s medical care.

“These results speak to an emerging theme in policies directed toward teen pregnancy—expecting greater responsibility on the part of fathers,” Davis noted. “The message from the public is clear: teen fathers should be engaged in ways that make them think about the consequences of teen pregnancy and prepare them to be capable and confident parents.”

Despite political dialogue focused on the high costs of social services, poll results showed that only 30% of the public would strongly support a program that would not provide welfare support to teen mothers. Rather, the public favors programs that put teen mothers on a pathway out of the welfare system. “Sixty-two percent of adults strongly support ‘teen and tot’ programs in local schools to encourage teenage moms to finish their high school education,” said Davis, who is also associate professor of pediatrics and internal medicine in the Child Health Evaluation and Research Unit at the University of Michigan Medical School.

Overall, three-quarters of US adults say they are concerned about the problem of teen pregnancy. In states with higher teen birth rates, the public indicates greater concern about teen pregnancy. “Teen pregnancy is a very visible community issue, and the public continues to view it as a major child health concern —whether for teen parents or for their children,” said Davis.

The poll also found:

  • While two-thirds of adults strongly support teaching abstinence and birth control (67%), only 52% would strongly support requiring both public and private health plans to cover contraceptives.
  • To prevent further teen pregnancies in moms who already have a child, nearly half (47%) strongly support providing medical care coverage for teen mothers in order to give advice about birth control and coverage for contraceptive medications.

To read the full report, click here.