Teen birth rates are on the decline nationwide. But as part of a collaboration with the Connecticut Health Investigative Team, WNPR's Jeff Cohen reports that the rate of teen births among Hispanics In Hartford is staggering.
Yanisha Claudio is sitting on the sofa at her family's house, stressing about her freshman schoolwork that isn't done and her uniforms that don't fit. In her lap is Jordan, her two-month old boy.
Yanisha: Bless you!
Yanisha is 15. She got pregnant in eighth grade but didn't find out until more than five months into it. As she talks with a counselor, she remembers the night she had sex with Jordan's teenage dad, wishing they had used a condom.
Yanisha: I wasn't thinking. So, it was like, I wasn't like thinking about...
Counselor: Did you ask him to use one?
Yanisha: Yes, I asked him, and he was like, "Oh, I don't have any." I said, "Then, no," and then, I don't know what happened then. I guess we made Jordan there.
Now, nearly a year later, Yanisha is trying to finish up the first semester's work as she gears up for the second one. At the same time, she has Jordan to worry about -- his eating, his daycare, his blood work, his schedule, his sleeping habits, his visits with his dad.
"It's hard because -- all of the responsibility is put on me now. But it's kind of like my fault because, if I was smart enough, I would have just used protection and I wouldn't be in this situation. But. It's kind of hard because now I see everybody like going out and going to the movies or going somewhere and I don't get that time because I have a baby. And I don't blame him at all. I don't blame Jordan. Because Jordan didn't bring hisself into this world. I did."
Teen pregnancy rates are down nationwide. But in the city of Hartford, the numbers are still among the state's highest. According to the state's 2009 data for the city, eight percent of babies born to white mothers were to women under 20 and 13.5 percent of babies born to black mothers were to women under 20. But for babies born to Hispanic mothers, that figure was 22 percent.
Raul Pino is the city's acting director of health. He says cultural factors play a big role.
"There is a cultural and religious belief that prevent people from getting into terminating a pregnancy. Also, there is a lower rate of condom use, contraception, among Latinos, that is, when you compare, for example, to Caucasians."
And Pino says that can lead to lots of problems -- aside from the fact that teenagers may not be well-prepared to be parents. He's concerned about nutrition, infant mortality, the effect on the family, and school drop out rates.
So, with federal money, the city is working on a teen pregnancy prevention grant. It may not prevent the first pregnancy. But, using what Pino says are culturally sensitive ways of talking about contraception, he's hoping to prevent the second.
Candida Flores knows the challenge of being a teen mother. She was one herself growing up in Puerto Rico, having four children by the time she was 22. Now, as the executive director of the Family Life Education program, Flores is hoping to reach Hartford teens. And for her, it's about much more than teaching teenagers how to use condoms.
Flores: It's the circumstances around them that prevent them from exercising that...
Cohen: Having the self awareness to say can we stop now for a second and, "I need you to put a condom on."
Flores: Exactly. And the sense of worth, that entitles them to say to this man in their life, "No, we're not doing it without a condom." They're not there yet. And that's what we work with them on. Who are you as a woman?
Colon: I haven't seen you in a long time.
Yanisha : Yeah, he's getting real big.
Jennifer Colon is a home visitor with Flores' agency, and is making one of her first visits to Yanisha Claudio's house since the holidays.
Colon: So, what's going on?
Yanisha: Oh, I start school next week. But my mom just got to buy me a couple more uniforms -- I don't have barely...all I have is when I was pregnant.
Colon: So they're big?
Yanisha: Yeah. And she's got to buy me more. Hi, Bubba! Bubba, hi!
Colon: How are things going with his dad?
Yanisha: Good. He comes by every day to see him.
Colon: Oh, good.
While she's there, Colon asks Yanisha about her doctor visits, how much Jordan his eating, his sleep habits, and her plans for the baby when she goes back to school. Yanisha says she's lucky -- she's got support from her own mother. But, in the end, she knows that Jordan is her's to care for.
Yanisha: She can help me, like, she can do his for me when I want to, but also that it's my responsibility, this is my responsibility, this is not her job to raise him, it's my job.
Cohen: What do you think about that?
Yanisha: It's alright, because it's the truth, because she's not the one that made this baby. I did.
This story was reported in collaboration with the Connecticut Health Investigative Team. You can read more from their story posted today at c-hit.org.