Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs That Worked Lose Federal Funding

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While we’ve been engrossed in the Republicans’ umpteenth attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, the Trump administration quietly has stopped funding 80-some teenage pregnancy prevention programs around the country, including a highly successful one in Hartford.

The Trump administration has cut nearly $214 million in grants. Those grants were awarded under President Obama, and were supposed to have ended in 2020. Recently, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services let grantees know that the funds would end in 2018—two years earlier than promised. The cut was first reported by Reveal, a product of The Center for Investigative Reporting.

The programs were offered by entities as diverse as Johns Hopkins University, the Choctaw Nation and the Hartford Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, a collaboration of the city’s Health and Human Services Department, Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, Connecticut Women’s Education and Legal Fund and the University of Saint Joseph.

In 1994, just over 28 percent of live births in Hartford were to teenagers. The numbers had been growing for 20 years, with the attendant negative effect on teens’ ability to finish school and find gainful employment.

On a broader scale, teen childbearing costs us anywhere from $9.4 billion to $28 billion each year in programs such as SNAP (the food stamp program), and the foster care system, among other expenditures.

The Trump administration has cut nearly $218 million in grants to teen pregnancy prevention programs.

Something had to be done, and in Hartford, public and private organizations went to work. By 2000, just 22 percent of Hartford’s live births were to teenagers. By 2010, the figure was at 15.3 percent, and that same year, the city of Hartford was one of nine sites nationwide awarded a grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to bring the percentage of teen births down by 10 percent within five years, said Pierette Silverman, vice president of education and training with Planned Parenthood of Southern New England.

Over time, the Hartford Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative built an evidence-based program that yielded incredible results. Their multi-pronged effort included pushing for access to reproductive health services for youth, training professionals to help students talk about sex with their peers, lessons on abstinence, and age-appropriate signage and messaging in waiting and exam rooms, said Carmen N. Chaparro, the Hartford program manager.

In fact, Hartford’s incidences of live births to teenagers had dropped by 40 percent by 2014—a full year before the goal. Another grant was awarded, with plans to start implementing some of the lessons learned during the first round. The goal was to decrease teen births by another 10 percent by 2020.

It is difficult to find such a successful government program, and it’s difficult to find precedent for such an abrupt end to funding, said Bill Albert, chief innovation officer at the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

“This came as a shock,” said Albert. “This is sort of like building a race car and never turning on the engine to see if it runs or how fast it goes.

“This has rightfully been lauded by independent experts as a shining star example of how to implement evidence-based policy-making,” said Albert. “None of us tax payers can point to a whole bunch of federal programs that have good, solid evidence of success.”

The success wasn’t just in Hartford. Albert said that nationally teen pregnancies are down by 55 percent since their peak in the ’90s, and teen births are down 67 percent. All 50 states have seen a decline among all ethnic and racial groups.

Chaparro agreed that the cut was “unprecedented,” but she’s hopeful.

“What this cut means is that we have to work faster and harder to get to our end goal, and that we must be persistent and not only inform, but hold people accountable for their actions when it comes time to vote on the budget,” she said. “We are not finished here.”

Susan Campbell is a distinguished lecturer at the University of New Haven. She can be reached at slcampbell417@gmail.com.