Teen pregnancy rates down in Milwaukee

MTV shows such as “16 and Pregnant” and “Teen Mom” will have to search elsewhere for future casting, thanks to a decrease in Milwaukee teenage birth rates.

Ranked a decade ago as the second highest city in the nation for teenage birth rate, the past three years produced a steady decrease in those numbers, according to a City of Milwaukee Health Department press release.

In a 2008 report, the City of Milwaukee Health Department reported 31.3 births per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 19.

United Way of Greater Milwaukee, a community-run organization focused on finding solutions to societal issues, commissioned a report five years ago that linked poverty and teenage pregnancy.

United Way has also set a goal to reach 30 births per 1,000 teens ages 15 to 17 by 2015.

Further research by United Way found the long-term cost of a Milwaukee teen having a child to be $79,320. It also showed that girls born to teen moms are 83 percent more likely to become teen mothers themselves and are less likely to graduate high school.

Nicole Angresano, vice president of Community Impact at United Way, said the organization is pleased with the decrease over the past few years, but raising awareness isn’t enough.

“A lot of money spent on programs and resources goes into what we do,” Angresano said. “It is imperative that we don’t become complacent. … We’re in this for the long haul.”

United Way grabbed the community’s attention through an aggressive public awareness campaign showing a teenage male holding an oversized baby. Angresano said the shock campaign received mostly positive reactions, but as always, there were a few mixed reviews.

“Adults that don’t react well need to be reminded that they’re not the audience,” she said. “We’re after the teens.”

Partnering with United Way is the City of Milwaukee Health Department. In 2009, the department distributed about 400,000 condoms and accompanying educational materials to Milwaukee youth.

Anna Benton, director of Family and Community Health Services, said the city’s “No Condom, No Way” program emphasizes responsible sexual decision-making by distributing materials to 40 nonprofit sites around the city, such as Urban Underground and Pearls for Teen Girls.

“There is going to be a re-launch of the program next month,” Benton said. “New packaging, a new feel… all things that will make youth more likely to use them.”

The Milwaukee Public School system is another key partner, and revised its curriculum to better teach human growth and development, including pregnancy prevention.

Additionally, in upcoming weeks, MPS students will be able to obtain four-packs of condoms from school nurses. Although the curriculum is abstinence-based, this allows students to be prepared if they choose to engage in sexual activity, according to Kathleen Murphy, MPS health services coordinator.

Although many Marquette students have aged past the possibility of teenage pregnancy, there are still those that hold concern for the issue and others surrounding it, such as abortion.

Amanda Rapp, a junior in the College of Arts & Sciences and president of Students for Life, a pro life student group, said MPS’ recognition of the importance of prevention education for the youth was a necessary first step. She also said the curriculum’s abstinence basis is key, but the distribution of condoms worries her.

“Giving students condoms might send the message, ‘take this condom and have sex’ rather than ‘take this condom just in case,’” Rapp said. “Ultimately, no one wants to see grade school children engaging in sex anymore than they want to see them pregnant.”

Rapp also spoke to the future of MPS and taking their education a bit further to entail the conception and development of a child.

“They could also touch on the procedures and effects of abortion,” she said. “I think that would cause the number of abortions to decrease significantly as well.”