TEEN PREGNANCY in Gloucester might get the glossy magazine articles and the made-for-TV movies, but Boston’s experience with the problem deserves at least as much attention. Though teen birth rates in the city have decreased over the last decade, they remain higher than in Massachusetts as a whole.
Teen birth rates and infant mortality rates are highest among Latinas and blacks; statewide, the birth rate among Hispanic teens is six times that of whites, one of the biggest disparities in the United States. Nationally, 25 percent of students who drop out of school cite parenthood as the reason, a step that leads to greater reliance on public aid and hurts their children’s chances to succeed.
A recent hearing at City Hall shed light on the problem. Teen mothers, community advocates, and public health officials all made it clear that access to contraception isn’t the only important issue. Some girls, lacking self-esteem, wind up in unhealthy relationships that lead to risky behavior. Many pregnant teens go without good prenatal care and lack the family and community support that can keep them in school.
The good news is that support systems do exist around the city, though they’re scattered and poorly coordinated. And while preventing teen pregnancy should be a broad goal, some teens do gain more focus after they give birth. City Hall and Boston school officials should look for better ways to connect them to health programs such as Children’s Hospital’s Young Parents Program and Boston Medical Center’s Teen & Tots program, as well as to education programs such as College Bound Dorchester.
City Councilor Ayanna Pressley, who convened the hearing as chair of the new Committee on Women & Healthy Communities, says she will hold another hearing to look more closely at these programs, and to learn how to replicate and protect the programs that work best. Those answers likely won’t be easy, especially in tough economic times. But Pressley and her council colleagues deserve credit for asking the right questions.