- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2007

This news is as unexpected as it is positive: According to the D.C. Department of Health, teen pregnancies in Washington have plummeted. They dropped by more than half in the District over the period 1996-2005, from 102.3 per 1,000 to 42.1, which is only slightly higher than the national average (40.4). The teen pregnancy rate has also dropped in the surrounding counties, mirroring and in some cases outstripping the national trend. Demographers and social scientists will be studying this evident success for years.

What caused it? Many will point first to government programs. That would be wrong. This was, and is, a social movement, reflecting a change in attitudes and priorities. Government policy has only so much influence over teen behavior. Families, neighborhoods, houses of worship and community voices play a much bigger role, and it is there that change begins.

Washingtonians are more aware today than 10 years ago that, like nothing else, teen pregnancy opens the door to neglect, abuse, poor educational attainment, future criminality and a variety of other social problems. Government programs are a reflection, not a driver, of this movement. Ministers, priests, area leaders and ordinary mothers and fathers should be credited as the unsung heroes who make it clear to youths the very serious stakes of bringing a child into this world.

We would also credit the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy as the pointed spear tip of social change. As Executive Director Brenda Rhodes Miller put it: “People have gotten together to work behind a common goal.” We asked Mrs. Miller whether she would point to any particular factor. She wouldn’t. “We didn’t try to get people to agree on everything, just to agree that teen pregnancy is in no one’s best interest,” she said. Something in that approach has worked.

Among this region’s most worrisome social trends, we can now count teen pregnancy considerably less of a problem.

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