When she’s not busy with one of her favorite hobbies—photography, or serving in her role as senior class president at McCollum High School in San Antonio, Texas—17-year-old Gabby Herrera is heading to various events in the community to address teen pregnancy prevention.
“Reducing teen pregnancy is a passion of mine,” said Gabby, a member of the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio’s Teen Health (UTTH) Youth Leadership Team. “It really has an effect on our future.”
UTTH is one of nine statewide or community-based organizations participating in a demonstration project to test the effectiveness of innovative, multicomponent, communitywide initiatives in reducing the number of teen pregnancies and births in communities with the highest rates. A specific focus is to reach African American and Latino/Hispanic young people aged 15 to 19 years, who are at particularly high risk.
Home to a 90% Latino population and a teen birth rate of 77.3 births/1,000 of 15- to 19-year-old females1, San Antonio’s south side rate is almost 2.5 times higher than the U.S. national rate (31/1,000). Moreover, one-quarter of these teen moms have a second pregnancy before they turn 20 years old.2
Youth Leadership Teams Play Essential Community Mobilization Role
Community Mobilization and Sustainability is one of the five key components of the initiative and UTTH is engaging stakeholders across the community and empowering young people to raise awareness of teen pregnancy prevention. As part of the project, which is focused exclusively on the south side of San Antonio, grantees are expected to create a Youth Leadership Team (YLT) to engage with the community’s young people.
The YLT plays a vital role in community mobilization for long-lasting effect, providing direct links to adolescents in the community for engaging, educating, and building youth support for the project. As UTTH YLT coordinator Bryanna Mora explains, “They’re the ‘eyes and ears’ within the youth community. They give us invaluable feedback on the overall communitywide approach and really help us to reach young people in a way that really resonates with them.”
“I have a lot of friends that have babies. They don’t take it seriously sometimes. You have to persuade them [to take it seriously],” laments Gabby. “You see a lot of it on the south side. Kids are not educated about sexual health. It’s frustrating, but it’s not their fault. Our community needs to get more involved with educating them. They don’t realize the consequences teen pregnancy can have on their lives.”
Since joining the YLT, Gabby has participated in a variety of events to raise awareness of teen pregnancy and its consequences. “We really want to get other young people involved. We are always brainstorming what to do.”
With Gabby and her YLT friends, innovative, youth-friendly approaches to raising awareness reign supreme, as you might expect. The group organized a Photo Voice event at a local library in April 2012 using photography to document what teen pregnancy means to them, and talking with community members about the photos. The purpose of the event was to increase awareness of teen pregnancy in the community through dialogue sparked by photographs taken by the YLT. Sixty-seven community members attended. Participants were asked to drop comment cards in boxes corresponding with teens’ photos and engage in a dialogue with YLT members about their pictures. A review of the 65 comment cards submitted revealed thoughtful feedback from the community regarding their reactions, ideas and concerns. Here are some of the comments and concerns from participants regarding teen pregnancy in their community:
- Stay in school.
- Talk to teens.
- Education with accurate information.
- Wait to have kids.
- Education and prevention.
- Teach abstinence.
- Teach and talk about contraception.
- Encourage sex education programs.
- Educate, educate, educate.
When the Department of Family and Community Medicine from the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio hosted a teen health camp, the YLT helped UTTH organize the ‘Life as a Teen Parent’ session where teens talked about life as a teen parent and attendees learned what areas in San Antonio had highest teen birth rates. Approximately 210 teens from the south side of San Antonio attended.
The YLT also created a video for Let’s Talk month (October 2012) featuring a mom explain how she talks with her children about how to prevent teen pregnancy and encouraging others to become comfortable talking about this with their children.
Innovation to Increase Access to Preventive Clinical Services
Kristen Plastino, MD, program director for UTTH, works to battle teen pregnancy in their community through a multifaceted approach. “In addition to mobilizing young people and the community to promote awareness, increasing adolescent access to preventive clinical services also is a central element of the initiative. Teens need to see health care as prevention, not just for broken bones and immunizations. UT Teen Health is working with youth-serving organizations to help them develop formal and informal linkages with local clinics. UT Teen Health is also working with those clinics to ensure the services are teen-friendly and culturally competent. In these ways, we can make sure a young person has a positive experience as soon as they walk through the door of the clinic.”
According to Gabby, the YLT is busy promoting the availability of local clinical services during May’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention month. “We are creating virtual tours of local clinics that will be linked on our Facebook Page. We have scripts and show what a clinic visit would look like, such as a virtual tour of what it is like to walk through the clinic and get an STD test or pregnancy test. We are working back and forth with clinicians to refine it for release during Teen Pregnancy Prevention month.”
UTTH doesn’t stop there. They are also focusing on increasing access to evidence-based programs for teen pregnancy prevention. “UTTH has had remarkable success in supporting evidence-based programs in the community’s high schools and community-based organizations,” said Trish Mueller, UTTH’s project officer. “They have already reached 1,961 young people since implementing these programs in 2011, and they have done a great job reaching young people most at risk by targeting schools with high-risk youth, such as teen parents (who are in jeopardy of having another pregnancy) and young people in juvenile justice.”
When asked about the importance of her work on the YLT, Gabby smiles. “What have I learned? The facts, and that made my passion grow even stronger. At first, teen pregnancy did not seem like a huge deal. The facts have changed my view.”
1. San Antonio Metro Health Department. Bexar County Teen Pregnancy Web site. http://www.sanantonio.gov/health/pdf/ProjectWorth/2010-2011%20Teen%20Fact%20Sheet%200425%2012%20FINAL.pdf. Accessed May 8, 2013.
2. Texas Department of Health and Human Services. Health Profiles Web site http://www.sanantonio.gov/health/pdf/healthprofiles/2008%20Health%20Profiles.pdf. Accessed May 8, 2013.
Contributors include: Trish Mueller, MPH, CDC project officer; Jennifer Todd, JD, BSN, UTTH project coordinator.