Teen pregnancy solutions up in the air

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With Alexandrias teen pregnancy rate sitting well above the regional average and near the worst in the state, battling the problem locally has been a persistent issue. 

On Tuesday, the City Council decided to go after two hefty federal grants but questioned whether the problem can be solved with money alone. All of this comes as the citys funding for teen pregnancy is being slashed in half because of budget woes.

In reality, these grants have the opportunity to replace lost state money and lost local money, said Councilman Rob Krupicka. We dont have the luxury of tapping into local resources to fill these holes.

The city has seen a 31 percent reduction in pregnancies since 1996 when the Alexandria Campaign on Adolescent Pregnancy was instituted. However, in 2008, the last year reported by the city, Alexandria had 43 teen pregnancies per 1,000 females aged 10 to 19 years old.

That figure trumps the 16.5 per 1,000 teen pregnancies in the Northern Virginia region and the state average of 26.3.

The combined grants would provide more than $1 million in federal funding to the citys Office of Adolescent Health but Council members questioned whether money was the crux of the solution.

Programs alone dont solve [the problem], quite obviously, because weve had a program in place before, said Councilwoman Alicia Hughes. What is it that we should be doing as people, as a community, to drop down this rate?

Weve had money to deal with this but its not going away.

The citys funding to prevent teen pregnancy was cut in half this fiscal year, from $130,000 to $65,000, according to a Council memo.

Each grant would supply funding for three staff positions. The grants are competitive, which means the city could receive one, both or neither, and no matching funds are necessary from the city government.

There is no money in the budget to continue funding the positions after the grant money runs out, should the city receive it.

The grant would go toward youth outreach and education, as well as a social norms marketing campaign through new media to reach youth. Councilman Paul Smedberg said he wants to see a more goal-oriented, specific plan, adding that he wants ACAP to see the Council as a partner, not a barrier that hands out permission slips. 

Teen pregnancy affects other aspects of society, said Lisa Baker, part of the ACAP staff. It is linked to domestic violence, substance abuse and other social issues facing the city high dropout rates, most significantly and requires a four-pronged approach of involvement from the community, parents, teenagers and on a policy level.

There is no one easy solution to prevent teen pregnancy and when we saw these grants we thought they were gifts raining from heaven, Baker said. There is not a lot of money out there for federal funds that promote evidence-based funding, which Alexandria practices almost exclusively for the ACAP program. 

Mayor Bill Euille said the quality of the programming is more important than the quantity of money.
Councilman Frank Fannon said he hopes the grants work out but seemed to be frustrated with the fact that the free money, as he called it, was available in the first place.

This is taxpayer money from the federal government, Fannon said. My personal thought on this once again, I hope it works out is that here is the federal government putting out $5 million to a city like us to address teen pregnancy.

I can really see the expenses that we put out there, he said. And if families were tight, if families could take care of these things on their end, its amazing how much money the whole country could save.
Fannon voted with the rest of the Council to take steps toward securing the grant. For other members, it was a matter of responsibility.

We still have a teen pregnancy rate thats unacceptably high, said Vice Mayor Kerry Donley, who was mayor when ACAP was implementd. Its irresponsible of us, at least in my estimation, not to take advantage of these grants.

If theyre not awarded here, they will be a warded somewhere else, but I know what will happen if we dont apply: We wont get them. Its pretty simple.

Council plans to schedule a work session with ACAP to work with them on the specifics of the programs should funding come through.

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