No, I don't mean the recent good news for D.C. sports teams. One of the reasons I was drawn to work on teen pregnancy was the powerful book written by Leon Dash in 1989 called When Children Want Children, which chronicled the complicated lives and motivations of teen girls who became parents in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Washington D.C. Since moving to D.C. in 1989, I have seen both progress and setbacks on issues affecting children and youth. One of the long-term positive trends in D.C. has been the dramatic decline in the teen pregnancy and birth rates. Consider this: Since the early 1990s, around the time Mr. Dash wrote his groundbreaking book, the teen birth rate in D.C. has fallen almost 60%! Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show that D.C.'s teen birth rate is now lower than that of five states (AR, MS, NM, OK, and TX).
This progress is more than positive trends on a chart: it translates into profound improvements in the lives of children, families, and communities. This point was driven home dramatically by two announcements last week. On April 24, I read a story in The Washington Post about the declining caseloads in the D.C. Child Welfare system. It may be a sign I've been doing what I do for too long, but my first thought was: Hmm, I wonder if the progress in reducing teen pregnancy has contributed in some way? After all, research is clear that children born to teen mothers are at increased risk of entering foster care and teens in foster care are at increased risk of having children, who may in turn enter the system. And, according to the D.C. Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, 76% of children placed in foster care in D.C. were born to teen parents or parents who began having children in their teens.
The next day, April 25, brought more good news: The infant mortality rate in D.C., which has been tragically high for many years, has dropped significantly in recent years and is now at a historic low level. This time, I didn't have to just speculate about the connection with teen pregnancy. D.C. officials credit fewer teenagers getting pregnant as one of the key factors behind the drop in infant mortality. Obviously one infant death is too many, but this is still progress worth celebrating. It is also a vivid reminder of why preventing teen pregnancy deserves our ongoing commitment and investment--in D.C., by federal officials, and around the country. If we can continue making progress in helping children wait to have children, we will see fewer children in foster care and less infant mortality, not to mention more young people finishing school and less poverty. Kudos to the many public and private sector leaders in D.C. who have worked so hard to make progress on all these very tough, and interrelated, issues. Keep up the great work!Photo: Washington DC city at sunset by U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service