Considering the decline in teen births in Hennepin County since 2010, it would seem a no-brainer that the county would receive a second federal grant to continue its pregnancy prevention efforts.
A countywide drop in teen births from 976 in 2009 to 597 in 2013 coincided with the launch of the grant-funded prevention programs. But Hennepin leaders were held in suspense until last week’s announcement of $7.5 million for five more years.
“Teen pregnancy is not a problem you solve once and then it’s fixed,” said Katherine Meerse of Better Together Hennepin, the county’s prevention agency. “We have a new group of teenagers every year.”
Whether the county programs can take credit for the decline in teen births is unclear. Research in the 1990s backed an approach called Teen Outreach Program, by which teens learned in school to set goals and understand how pregnancies could disrupt their futures. But surveys of teens who received this counseling in Hennepin didn’t show much effect.
“Is it that young people need something different now than they needed in the early 90s?” Meerse asked.
Results from a similar goal-setting approach in clinics rather than classrooms are still to come. Meerse expects they will show a stronger effect.
The new grant is smaller than the $17 million award to Hennepin in 2010, partly because it could only seek new funding for communities with teen birthrates above the U.S. rate. That prevented the county from seeking funding for places such as Brooklyn Park, where the rate plummeted from 45.2 teen births per 1,000 15-19 year-old females in 2009 to only 25.4 in 2013 — below the U.S. rate of 26.5.