HARTFORD — With a teen pregnancy rate more than three times the state average, city and agency officials are planning an ambitious program to try to curb the problem.
With a five-year, $4.5 million grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the city's health and human services department and Office for Youth Services are collaborating on the effort with Planned Parenthood of Southern New England and Hartford Action Plan.
Raul Pino, assistant director of the department of health and human services, said the city will award "mini-grants" this fall to a handful of nonprofit organizations in the city to head up education programs. Pino said they hope to have the programs running by winter.
"The idea is that we will try to cover the entire city," he said. Programs to be chosen will focus on either Hispanic or African American adolescents, the two groups in the city that have the highest rates of teen pregnancy.
Regina Roundtree, executive director of Hartford Action Plan, said the issue of teen pregnancy needs ongoing attention. In the 1990s, her organization started initiatives such as "Breaking the Cycle," aimed at curbing teen pregnancy in the city. Births to teenagers dropped from about 700 annually to about 400 before funding for the programs was cut.
Despite the progress, Roundtree said, the city's teen birth rate of 72.9 births per 1,000 teenage girls in 2008 (the most recent data available) is still more than three times the state average of 21 births per 1,000.
"I think what happened is that when we saw rates go down, people said, 'OK, well, we've got that under control, let's look at something else,' " Roundtree said.
The new effort will include education about birth control, preventing sexually transmitted diseases and how to use the city's health clinics.
When it was awarded last fall, the grant specified that the first year would be devoted to planning. At this stage, Pino said, not all the specifics are in place.
Reaching the target audience, Roundtree said, is the first question to consider.
"We're working on having it in some of the schools," she said. "There are principals who want to bring it to the schools and are very willing to give us the time, because they realize how important this is to their students."
The grant is specifically designed to focus on people between ages 13 and 19. Roundtree said the older adolescents might be the most difficult to reach.
"That's going to be part of the challenge," she said. "And 18- and 19-year-olds make up the majority of teen pregnancy."
"We may not find a lot of 17- and 18-year-olds in an after-school program, so we have to find other ways to find that population," she said, adding that adult education programs and community colleges might be folded into the plan.
Roundtree said the city and agencies also want to figure out how to make the program financially sustainable after the five-year grant period ends.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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