Teenage pregnancy involves huge risks for both parents and children. Teenage parents are much less likely to graduate from high school or to complete college. Adolescent and teenage mothers also face greater emotional, physical and financial health risks.
Research shows teenage parents and their children are more likely to face serious physical and behavior health issues, do poorly in school, be unemployed and commit crimes. And finally, both parents and children often wind up costing taxpayers a lot of money to support.
Erie County hasn’t had a coordinated strategy to tackle this problem, but that should change soon.
The county has been awarded a five-year, $10 million federal grant to help improve the way local organizations address unintended teen pregnancy in Buffalo’s highest-risk neighborhoods. The grant would be coordinated by the county’s Health Department and shared among numerous education, health and community organizations.
“This is really the first time, during my time as commissioner, where we have the resources to bring together all these community-based and clinical organizations,” said Health Commissioner Gail Burstein.
Although teenage pregnancy rates have been falling nationwide, many neighborhoods in Buffalo still remain well above average.
In nine city zip codes that cover the West Side, Central Buffalo and parts of the East Side, six out of every 100 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 wind up giving birth, according to 2012 data from the county Health Department. That is more than three times the state average, excluding New York City, and more than twice the national teen birth rate.
Neighborhoods with high teen birth rates often also see high poverty rates.
Burstein said the high rates of teen birth rates in some communities perpetuate an ongoing cycle of poverty.
The goal of the federal grant is to enable education, shelter and health providers to reach 15,000 teens a year through proven programs to birth rates for this age group. The grant was awarded by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services based on an application submitted in partnership with the University at Buffalo and Cicatelli Associates, a nonprofit organization that specializes in public health work.
The Buffalo Public Schools will use some of the grant money to cover training for staff, parents, and students, stated Will Keresztes, the district’s associate superintendent of student support services. It will also help the district develop an age-appropriate health curriculum.
The district currently offers no elementary curriculum and limited health instruction for middle and high school students.
“This grant represents a powerful opportunity for our students,” Keresztes said. “The research is clear: Children having children can lead to intractable poverty and lifelong challenges to family health, so providing students with as much education as possible is key. At the same time, we must become a valuable resource for young women who become pregnant and have children. We should help young parents to overcome the odds they will face. This grant gets us there.”