Do-nothing war on teen pregnancy

April 03, 1992

Former Vermont Sen. George Aiken once advised a frustrated President Lyndon Johnson that the only way to extricate America from the quagmire of Vietnam was to simply "declare victory and get out." Last week Mayor Kurt Schmoke took a leaf from Senator Aiken's book when he politely thanked his Advisory Council on Adolescent Pregnancy and sent it packing while acknowledging that most of its recommendations won't be implemented because the city lacks the money.

Officials are trying to put the best face on the council's demise, saying it has accomplished its mission and the city is making progress toward stemming the teen pregnancy epidemic. That's sounds like the proverbial "light at the end of the tunnel." But the facts indicate otherwise.

The council was created in 1988 to produce an action plan for reducing the rate of births to city teen-agers. It eventually came up with 28 recommendations that included strengthening school health studies in an effort to promote sexual abstinence and mentoring programs to help adults increase children's self-esteem. Yet today few if any of its recommendations are actually in place.

Meanwhile, birth rates for adolescent girls continue to climb sharply. Among city girls between the ages of 15 and 17, for example, the birth rate soared from 59.7 births per thousand in 1980 to 96.6 per thousand in 1990 -- a jump of more than 60 percent. Officials cite a modest decline in overall numbers of teens giving birth as evidence of progress. But the drop is primarily attributable to the fact that the population of teen-age girls is declining; of those who remain in the city, more are having babies than ever.

The inescapable conclusion is that Mayor Schmoke has done little more than pay lip service to the problem. In the four years the council was in existence he did not attend a single meeting. Former School Supt. Richard C. Hunter, whom Mr. Schmoke appointed to the council as head of the department on the front line of the problem, likewise never showed up. When the panel completed a detailed report on the problem more than a year ago, it was put on a shelf and has been gathering dust ever since. Panel members complain privately that despite the mayor's public highly publicized statements in support of their efforts, virtually nothing has been done. Sadly, the most recent statistics appear to more than bear out that charge.

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