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Expanding the Evidence to Help Teen Moms Make Healthy Choices

Young mother holding her newborn while feeding her a bottle of milk.By Debbie A. Powell, Acting Associate Commissioner for the Family and Youth Services Bureau

May is National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month. It’s also the month in which we celebrate Mother’s Day. That may seem like a contradiction. But it turns out that one of the best ways we can support teen moms is to help them plan their families in a healthy way.

We know that teen moms are at risk for additional pregnancies. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in five births to teens, ages 15 to 19, are repeat births. We also know that spacing births at least two years apart is healthiest for moms and for babies. But the health interventions that we know help to prevent teen pregnancy are usually designed for the general adolescent population, not teen parents.

“[Teen parents] have experienced pregnancy, delivery and have had sex,” said Laura Pedersen, founder of Teen Outreach Pregnancy Services (TOPS) in Tucson, Ariz. “You cannot use the same tactics because they’re in such a different place in their lives.”

Pedersen’s organization is one of four grantees of the Family and Youth Services Bureau’s Personal Responsibility Education Innovative Strategies program, or PREIS, that are studying ways to make sure young moms and their partners have the ability to plan for the future and make healthy choices.

Pedersen’s PREIS project works with girls before their 26th week of pregnancy. All of the young women in the study get a two-hour healthy relationship session during their pregnancy curriculum and a home visit after delivery. On top of that, teens in the study group get what Pedersen calls the “Personal Success Pack.” They receive a 14-hour life-skills and sexual health curriculum after delivery and six months of home visits from a nurse and a health educator.

Teen Options to Prevent Pregnancy (TOPP), a project of the Ohio Health Research Institute in Columbus, Ohio, and AIM 4 Teen Moms, a project run out of Los Angeles Children’s Hospital, Division of Adolescent Medicine, are evaluating programs that give teen moms the tools to think about their futures and the futures of their children. Like TOPS, these two programs combine sexual health education with one-on-one interaction with nurses or health educators, creating a comprehensive approach meant to meet teen moms where they are.

FatherWorks, a project of The Village for Families and Children in Hartford, Conn., is running a five-year study of young fathers ages 15 to 24. The intervention being studied promotes co-parenting and getting the father engaged in the lives of his children and partner. Teen dads also get 120 hours of guaranteed paid work, in the form of internships or stipends. An ultimate goal of the project is to help young men see that the roles of breadwinner and caregiver are not mutually exclusive.

“Guys that have more children with more than one woman are less apt to be involved in any of their children’s upbringings,” said Vinny Hollister, who directs the project.

That’s why it’s so important to reach young fathers and make them part of the solution to repeat teen births.

The results of these projects are still a few years away, but we’re confident that they will help us do a better job of tailoring pregnancy prevention efforts to the thousands of teens who’ve already become parents too soon.

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