Teen pregnancy 'progress' cited as rate climbs Mayor disbands advisory council


Baltimore Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke's Advisory Council on Adolescent Pregnancy went out of business last week, with a small private luncheon at City Hall and thanks from the mayor.

But Mr. Schmoke acknowledged that most of the program the council recommended in a 77-page report will not be started for lack of money. His Advisory Council on Adolescent Pregnancy was disbanded, he added, because "its work is over."

"They developed the policy," he said. "We've moved now from policy development to the implementation phase."

He said that the implementation phase will not happen soon. "Implementation takes money," he said. "It does not help when you have budget cuts."

The first page of the council's study declares that "soon after taking office, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke announced that the prevention of adolescent pregnancy would be one of the major priorities of his administration."

In brief comments at last week's luncheon, Mr. Schmoke congratulated council members, saying, "We think that progress has been made. To make even modest progress in this area is a real tribute."

But progress is hard to detect -- and seems to depend on how various numbers are interpreted.

Despite the work of the mayor's council and other government and private groups with the same mission, birth rates for adolescent girls continue to climb.

Between 1980 and 1990, the birth rate rose precipitously among teen-age girls in Baltimore, state health department statistics show.

In 1980, there were 59.7 births for every 1,000 girls of ages 15 to 17 in the city. In 1990, that number had risen to 96.6. Among girls 10 to 14, there were 3.8 births for every 1,000 girls in 1980. In 1990, the birth rate had reached 5.7 per 1,000.

Mr. Schmoke, however, said he believes the rates, though they continue to rise, are not climbing so quickly. That, he said, is progress.

And he cited a different statistic. He noted that there has been "a modest decline" in births to teen-agers over those 10 years. He called that "a hopeful sign."

But state statisticians say that the drop in the number of births occurred simply because Baltimore, with its shrinking population, is home to fewer teen-agers now than in 1980.

"I'm just saying there are signs of progress," Mr. Schmoke said.

The Mayor's Advisory Council on Adolescent Pregnancy was created in June 1988. Its report, completed 15 months ago, is meant to be an "action plan" for reducing the rate of births to city teen-agers.

The group came up with 28 recommendations, but in the report highlighted five meant to reach girls, boys, dropouts, students and adolescents who were sexually active as well as those who were not.

The recommendations include strengthening school health studies in an effort to promote sexual abstinence and mentoring programs to help adults increase children's self-esteem.

The five programs were meant to be a cornerstone for the attack on the problem. But 15 months later, Mayor Schmoke acknowledged that only parts of the five are in place -- some in schools, some in volunteer programs, some in clinics.

At the Abell Foundation, Deirdre Smith, who monitors issues such as adolescent pregnancy, said "small-scale initiatives" are not enough. City Hall must adopt "a citywide strategy" for dealing with the problem.

"Much more needs to be done, and the rates back that up," she said. "For more than a decade, our adolescent pregnancy rates have been unacceptably high -- among the highest in the nation. They are higher now than they were 10 years ago. Even though the rates have slowed down in some categories, they're still unacceptable."

"In terms of the money," she continued, "our recommendation is that the money is not going to appear out of nowhere. It's going to take a lot of work and support. It's going to take a focus by the administration."

The Abell Foundation, which is involved in many city-related issues, was represented on the advisory group by Robert C. Embry Jr.

Rita Kerrick, director of the Office of Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention and Coordination in the Baltimore Health Department, said her office's biggest contribution has been "creating a network" with groups involved in the issue.

Her office includes three people -- Ms. Kerrick, an assistant and a secretary. She has no independent budget, depending on the health department for special projects. She relies on the Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy , a group with a larger staff and budget, for help.

Ms. Kerrick said that a shortage of money, as well as a reorganization of the public schools administration, has slowed the city's work. Providing more after-school programs for teen-agers, for instance, is "probably the one we're having the most difficulty with in terms of implementing, because the school system is in the process of restructuring."

"Even though the advisory council itself is not in business [anymore], I think we formed a good network," she said. "It's not a matter of throwing up my hands and saying, 'well, I've got no money.' "

Like Mayor Schmoke, she cites statistics showing fewer births to teen-agers, opting to use actual births rather than birth-rates per 1,000 women as an indicator of how the city situation is changing.

"I think they're looking at it backward," she said, referring to those who believe little has changed in terms of teen pregnancy. "They're looking [from the view that] the glass is half empty instead of the glass is half full. I would still point to the fact that numerically we had a decrease."

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