WASHINGTON — Communities looking for new and proven ways to prevent teen pregnancy have a new trove of federal research to explore.
Officials at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) recently released reports on five years’ worth of prevention initiatives. Researchers found four evidence-based programs that still changed teenage behavior when applied in new settings or among new populations, and eight new and innovative approaches that also altered behavior.
TPPP is now in the early stages of its second round of grants, but the program’s future is not entirely clear. In July, the House Appropriations Committee approved a spending bill by a vote of 31-19 that would eliminate funding for the program entirely in the next fiscal year.
The corresponding Senate spending bill takes a different approach and would maintain funding for the program at $101 million. Both bills would increase funding for a competitive abstinence education grant program.
House and Senate leaders ultimately will have to reconcile the two versions of the bills. But with Congress on an extended summer recess until September and limited days on fall’s legislative calendar before the end of the fiscal year, lawmakers may pass a continuing resolution that maintains current government spending levels while they finalize a deal.
During the appropriations process, local and national organizations have been vocal about urging lawmakers to continue support for the prevention program.
“We believe this funding is an absolutely essential part of continuing to prevent teen pregnancy,” said Ginny Ehrlich, CEO of The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.
TPPP, housed in the Office of Adolescent Health at the Department of Health and Human Services, both implements and tests prevention programs across the country. The program has reached half a million youth in 39 states and the District of Columbia since 2010.
"Preventing teen pregnancy is critical to ensuring that young people reach their educational and life goals,” said Karen B. DeSalvo, acting assistant secretary for health, in a news release. “By investing in rigorous evaluation and releasing its findings, the Office of Adolescent Health is making significant advancements in the field of teen pregnancy prevention.”
Ehrlich said the program has made significant contributions to the field of teen pregnancy prevention. When local officials or community-based organizations know what works, they can do their jobs most efficiently, she said.
“I think that’s really, really powerful. Time is often even more precious than money when we’re working with youth,” Ehrlich said.
The research also points toward the next step for researchers and practitioners: figuring out how to implement programs with fidelity while considering the unique needs of communities, she said.
Factors such as a community’s faith traditions, its racial and ethnic makeup and whether it’s rural or urban are all important to consider, she said.
U.S. teen pregnancy rates are at a historic low. Nearly 250,000 babies were born to women aged 15 to 19 years in 2014, a birth rate of 24.2 per 1,000 women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But racial and ethnic disparities persist, with black and Hispanic teens more likely to give birth than white teens.