- The Washington Times - Monday, March 28, 2005

The nation’s fast-growing Hispanic teen population could end declining teen birthrates, says a researcher who calls for more Hispanic-oriented teen-pregnancy prevention programs.

The national teen birthrate, fueled by declines in all ethnic groups, dropped by 33 percent between 1991 and 2003. The latest rate is fewer than 42 births per 1,000 teens.

But Hispanic teens — especially Mexicans and Puerto Ricans — are maintaining relatively high pregnancy and birthrates, said Child Trends researcher Suzanne Ryan, co-author of a recent paper on Hispanic teens.

These factors, coupled with a projected 50 percent increase in the Hispanic teen population by 2025, means that Hispanic teens could “definitely … slow down the decline in the national [birthrate],” Ms. Ryan said.

She recommends communities create more pregnancy-prevention programs to address Hispanic sexual issues, customs and beliefs.

Many communities already are responding to this issue.

The Pennsylvania Association of Latino Organizations in Harrisburg, Pa., recently won an abstinence grant worth $2.4 million over three years. The abstinence funds are being funneled to 10 Hispanic centers, which are using the money for school curricula, after-school programs and teen-parent programs, said Executive Director Margaret Brewer.

Currently 1,110 youth are enrolled in abstinence-funded programs, she added, and “as of August, there are zero pregnancies” for girls in them.

In New Britain, Conn., the Pathways/Senderos program has been cited as an effective program by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.

Pathways, which works with 50 families, is local and family-centered.

“We’re like the auntie next door,” said Executive Director RoseAnne Bilodeau. Staff members meet regularly with parents, teens and children on sex education and teen-pregnancy prevention issues. They also assist with families’ educational goals and economic, food and household needs.

“We’ve only had two pregnancies in 12 years,” said Ms. Bilodeau. “And 100 percent of the kids who stay with this program graduate from high school.”

Despite such success stories, the Child Trends report shows Hispanic teens still are highly likely to give birth while they are young and unmarried.

“Hispanic teens who are in sexual relationships often do not use contraception — or even talk about using it,” said Ms. Ryan, noting that 31 percent of sexually experienced Hispanic teens say they “never use” birth control. Also, 25 percent of Hispanic teenage girls say they would be “pleased” if they were to “become pregnant now.” Only 13 percent of all teenage girls chose that response.

The sheer numbers of Hispanic teens will soon make them a force to be reckoned with, said Ms. Ryan. Hispanics make up about 17 percent of the U.S. teen population; by 2025, they will make up 24 percent.

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