Teen Births: Nearly Half in State Are to Hispanics

Magaly Olivero, The Day, January 26, 2012

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Hispanic teen birth rates in Connecticut are 8.5 times higher than whites’ and almost double that of African Americans for girls ages 15 to 19. Of the 2,626 teen births in 2009, almost half (1,277) were to Hispanics, according to data from the state Department of Public Health.

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In Connecticut, 84 percent of births to teen mothers (ages 15 to 19) in 2009 were to low-income mothers enrolled in the publicly subsidized HUSKY or Medicaid health plans. The number of births to teens in these programs remains steady, immune to the declines statewide and nationally.

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Advocates hope $6.4 million in federal funds targeting at-risk Hispanic and African-American teens in the state’s poorest cities will make a difference by reaching youth in ways that resonate with their culture and language.

But many experts say little will change until the state has the financial resources and political will to address the underlying issues—poverty, domestic violence, education achievement gaps, unemployment—that impact Hispanic youth.

Complicating matters are language and cultural factors that research shows put Hispanics at greater risk of becoming parents, experts say. These run the gamut from strictly defined gender roles and machismo, to religious beliefs that ban contraception and abortion.

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At 13 percent of the state’s population, the Hispanic community is growing at a dramatic rate—by almost 50 percent during the past decade—and experiencing increasing social and health inequities.

Almost a third of Hispanic children ages 17 and younger live in poverty. Almost 22 percent of all Hispanics have no health insurance. The state’s Hispanics had the third highest unemployment rate in the nation in 2010, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington, D.C., think tank. Hispanics had a four-year high school graduation rate of 64 percent in 2010, according to state Department of Education data.

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As a public health issue, teen childbearing cost state taxpayers at least $137 million in 2008 for public health care, child welfare, incarceration and lost tax revenue due to decreased earnings and spending, reports the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy.

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In New London, the Board of Education voted this month to allow the health clinic at New London High School to distribute birth control pills and condoms to students who have parental consent. The center already provides pregnancy tests and treats sexually transmitted diseases, but never handed out contraception before.

“It was not an easy decision to make but the only one that was responsible when you look at the alarming rate of sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy among our youth,” said Liz Garcia Gonzalez, vice president of the New London Board of Education and executive director of Centro de la Comunidad of New London.

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