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Release: Sept. 24, 2001

UI professors' report shows community programs reduce adolescent birth rates

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- A new report on adolescent pregnancy prevention efforts in Iowa shows that community-based agencies are having a demonstrative impact on adolescent pregnancy rates in the counties they serve. The report, prepared by two University of Iowa faculty members, shows that among the 21 agencies dedicated to the fight against adolescent pregnancy, 16 were able to demonstrate decreases in the percentage of teen parents in the counties they served, three reported no change in pregnancy rates, and two reported very small increases.

In their report, Edward Saunders and Miriam Landsman, faculty members in the UI School of Social Work, write, "it is heartening to see decreases in these rates and it provides a baseline for future community-wide prevention programming."

The Iowa Department of Human Services provides funds to these community-based agencies for prevention programs in the schools, intervention programs for pregnant and parenting adolescents and community-wide activities--such as health fairs, media campaigns, and workshops. The agencies reach out to youth, parents, and community professionals--teachers, pastors, youth workers, business and civic leaders--in 56 out of 99 counties in Iowa. Many of the agencies have only received funding within the last two years.

"Community-wide prevention programs are important because they bring the health, human service, business, education, and religious groups together to implement solutions to the problem of teen pregnancy in their towns, school districts and counties," Saunders said. "By bringing all these leaders together, good ideas can be shared and new prevention programs can be developed."

Community-based agencies reached almost 80,000 youth in 56 counties with prevention programs in schools, youth agencies and religious groups, and at community events. The youth and their parents were also exposed to messages about sexual abstinence and pregnancy prevention through billboards, newspaper articles, TV and radio ads, and other media outlets.

In the schools, many youth participated in prevention programs such as "It Takes Two" and "Baby Think It Over." These prevention programs, like many others offered in Iowa, stress abstinence from sexual behavior and teach important skills such as saying "No" to peer pressure, talking to parents and other trusted adults, building self esteem, and understanding their changing bodies. Some programs also provide information about sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS.

The study also shows that the community agencies that received funding from the Department of Human Services were able to obtain more than $1 million in additional funds from other sources, such as businesses, foundations and the federal government, to help implement their programs.

Saunders said that the success of current programs points out the need for increased funding for new programs in areas that are not currently being served. "While the community-wide programs reached almost 80,00 youth in 56 counties, these young people are still fewer than 25 percent of the almost 350,000 middle-school and high-school youth in Iowa," he said. "There are still 43 counties that lack the resources to provide this vital service to youth in their communities."

The report is entitled, "A cross-site evaluation of adolescent pregnancy prevention, intervention, and community programs in Iowa, 2000-2001." It can be obtained by contacting Jo Lerberg with the Iowa Department of Human Services at (515) 281-4207.

The study was conducted by staff of the National Resource Center on Family-Centered Practice, which is part of UI School of Social Work in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. In addition to Saunders and Landsman, research assistants Judith McRoberts, and Nancy Graf worked on the project.