“It takes a village to raise a child.”
Unfortunately, too many modern day villages have failed in this regard. There’s plenty of blame to go around when the people can’t stay ahead of their social ills, but eventually it gets to the point where you have to stop blaming, and start acting.
This can serve as a backdrop to any number of communities across the United States. Here in Washington, there are many who believe that tackling first and foremost the problem of teen pregnancy can go a long way to curing many other inner city problems, and do wonders for the economy.
It’s not a new idea, but apparently it has taken a while for the DC Council to get on board, at least according to Brenda Rhodes Miller, Executive Director of the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. “We’ve been trying for a number of years to get city officials involved, because unfortunately, their attitude has been to deal with teen pregnancy after the fact,” Miller told me.
Just last week, several DC Council members including Kwame Brown, Mary Cheh and Harry Thomas, Jr. held a press conference to highlight the battle against the District’s teen pregnancy rate, which currently sits at around 59 per 1,000 girls.
All too often teen pregnancy can lead to a life of poverty, and it can recycle itself for the next generation, leading to even more problems. Go to the Campaign’s website, dccampaign.org, and you’ll find an alarming interactive map. It shows clusters of teen births and juvenile arrests across the District. Both categories tend to cluster in the same neighborhoods, and it should come as no surprise the highest concentrations of both teen births and juvenile arrests are in the city’s poorest Wards.
It’s because of neighborhood instability. “It’s why teen pregnancy continues to be a problem in the District,” says Miller. “They don’t have the same kind of protective factors you and I enjoyed when we were growing up, factors like school success, a sense of belonging and a safe place to hang out with your friends.”
The Campaign takes the simple approach, urging young people to act responsibly, live healthy lives and make informed choices. “If you knew there was something better, you wouldn’t ruin your opportunity,” Miller says. Ultimately though, there are only two ways to try and prevent teen pregnancy. Those are to abstain from sexual intercourse all together or use contraception every time.
There has already been some success. The city has recently seen a reduction in the rates of pregnancies for young women aged 15-19. There’s still a lot of work to be done, though. In fact, the Campaign has a new goal: cut the city’s teen pregnancy rate in half by the year 2015.
To reach that goal will take more than just advocacy. It’s going to take convincing adults that teen pregnancy hurts the village as a whole. “It’s very taxing on the economy as a whole because the city spends an awful lot of money to fill in the back end of the consequences,” says Miller.
In fact, it’s extremely taxing on the entire U.S., which has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any developed country. The District of Columbia simply serves as a snapshot, with its high poverty, crime, drug and alcohol abuse, domestic violence and unemployment.
It’s no secret DC spends an enormous amount of money dealing with its social woes. Unfortunately, the District’s child and family services and juvenile justice programs are necessary because of the ongoing cycle of neighborhood instability, low employment and teenage pregnancy.
Groups like the DC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy can’t change the system on their own. They need the village as a whole to once again realize its responsibility and provide young people the caring relationships they deserve. “We really need more adults to have close relationships with kids in the community. It’s important for grown-ups to say to kids that they have a choice, and it takes a lot of political will and leadership to help adults focus on the role they have to play,” Miller says.
It really does take a whole village to raise a child. The age-old African proverb still rings true, perhaps now more than ever.
The Campaign is also hoping the remaining members of the DC Council will step up publicly. It might just spark a movement toward more prevention, instead of throwing millions of dollars into programs that are forced to deal with the consequences.