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Home > Advocacy > CWLA 2006 Children's Legislative Agenda > Teen Pregnancy Prevention


CWLA 2006 Children's Legislative Agenda

Teen Pregnancy Prevention

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  • Increase funding for the Title X family planning program while maintaining its status as a categorical federal program that mandates informed patient consent, confidentiality protection for all patients, types of services offered, and medical standards.

  • Support funding for comprehensive, accurate sexuality health education, including abstinence education, in our communities and schools.

  • Require that teen pregnancy prevention programs specifically evaluate their effectiveness with youth in foster care.


Adolescent reproductive health is a critical issue affecting the well-being of many young people in the United States. Teen pregnancy and birthrates have declined nationwide in all states and among all age, racial, and ethnic groups. 1 Yet, the United States continues to have the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births in the industrialized world. 2 We must guard against believing the problem is solved.

Reducing the nation's teen pregnancy rate is one of the most strategic and direct means available to improve overall child well-being and reduce persistent child poverty. Teen pregnancy is closely linked to a host of other critical social issues--welfare dependency 3, and a weak future workforce due to only a third of all teen mothers receiving a high school diploma. 4 The long-term effects are equally passed to the next generation as children of teen mothers have lower birth weights, are more prone for poor academic performance, and are at substantially greater risk of abuse and neglect. 5 Preventing teen pregnancy is not only a reproductive health issue, but also one that improves all of these measures

Youth in foster care are at significant risk for teen pregnancy. 6 Youth in the child welfare system (family foster care, group homes, and residential care) are at higher risk than their high school counterparts of engaging in early sexual activity and experimenting with alcohol and other drugs. These factors only increase their risk for unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. 7 These youth often lack access to sexuality information and, if they are sexually active, to family planning services designed to give them the capacity to delay pregnancy. A recent study of youth transitioning out of foster care reports that nearly 50% of all girls were pregnant by the age of 19. 8
There continues to be a serious lack of consistent, ongoing nationwide data about the prevalence of teen pregnancy among youth in foster care and how to improve both primary and secondary prevention among youth in foster care. Federal policy makers should mandate improved data collection concerning teen pregnancy, and specifically among teens in foster care. All programs that stress pregnancy prevention should be required to specifically evaluate their effectiveness with youth in foster care.

Ideally, sex education begins at home. This allows parents to have a role in instructing their children and placing values concerning sexual activity. The parents of children in the child welfare system, however, are not able to meet these needs. The state, having assumed the role of parent, must ensure that youth in foster care receive adequate information on pregnancy prevention. Youth in high-risk life situations (youth in out-of-home care) deserve programs that meet their particular needs and circumstances. This information should be based on accurate, up-to-date, and research-based analysis.

Key Facts

  • Studies reveal that youth in foster care are 7.2 months younger than their peers when they first consent to sexual intercourse; youth in kinship care are 12 months younger than their peers when they first consent to sexual intercourse; youth in both foster and kinship care are associated with first conception at a younger age, by 11.3 months, compared with their peers. 9

  • The United States has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and births in the western industrialized world. Teen pregnancy costs the United States at least $7 billion annually. 10

  • The teen birthrate declined slowly, but steadily, from 1991 to 2004, with an overall decline of 33% for those between the ages of 15 to 19. 11

  • Thirty-five percent of young women become pregnant at least once before age 20--about 820,000 a year. Eight in ten of these pregnancies are unintended; 81% are to unmarried teens. 12

  • Twenty percent of teen mothers have a second birth before turning 20. 13

  • Studies show that the younger a teenage girl is when engaging in sex for the first time, the greater the likelihood the activity was unintended. Nearly 4 in 10 girls who had first intercourse at age 13 or 14 report it was either involuntary or unwanted. 14


  1. Alan Guttmacher Institute. (2004) U.S. teenage pregnancy statistics: Overall trends, trends by race and ethnicity and state-by-state information. Available online at New York: Author. back

  2. National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. (1997). Whatever happened to childhood? The problem of teen pregnancy in the United States. Washington, DC: Author. back

  3. Retrieved from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Calculations are based on the National Longitudinal Survey of Youth (1979-1985) by the Congressional Budget Office. (1990, September). Sources of support for adolescent mothers. Washington, DC: Author. back

  4. Maynard, R.A. (ed.). (1996). Kids having kids: A Robin Hood Foundations special report on the cost of adolescent childbearing. New York: Robin Hood Foundation. back

  5. Ibid. back

  6. Courtney, M., Dworsky, A., Ruth, G., Keller, T., Havlicek, J., & Bost, N. (2005). Midwest evaluation of the adult functioning of former foster youth: Outcomes at age 19. Chicago: Chapin Hall Center for Children. Available online at back

  7. Ibid. back

  8. Ibid. back

  9. Carpenter, C., Clyman, B., Davidson, A., & Steiner, J. (2001). The association of foster care or kinship care with adolescent sexual behavior and first pregnancy. Pediatrics 108, e46. back

  10. National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. (1997). Whatever happened to Childhood? The problem of teen pregnancy in the United States. Washington, DC: Author. back

  11. Hamilton, B.E., Ventura, S.J., Martin, J.A., & Sutton, P.D. (2005). Preliminary Births for 2004. Health E-Stats. Available online at back

  12. National Campaign Analysis of Henshaw, S.K. (2003). U.S. teenage pregnancy statistics with comparative statistics for women aged 20-24. New York: The Alan Guttmacher Institute. back

  13. Martin, J.A., Hamilton, B.E., Sutton, P.D., Ventura, S.J., Menacker, F., & Munson, M.L. (2005) Births: Final data for 2003. National Vital Statistic Reports, 54(2). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics. back

  14. Moore, K.A., & Driscoll, A. (1997). Partner, predators, peers, protectors: Males and teen pregnancy. In Not Just for Girls: The Roles of Boys and Men in Teen Pregnancy. Washington, DC: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.  back

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Tim Briceland-Betts

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