Opinion

High cost of ineffective sexuality education | Sex in the Suburbs

Did you know Washington taxpayers contributed $115 million to costs associated with teen childbearing in 2004?

Did you know that one in 36 Washington girls between ages 15 and 17 became pregnant in 2005? How about that Washington women under age 20 accounted for more than 7,500 births in 2007?

What has Washington done to get such stunning results? We have spent $11.4 million on abstinence-only sex education programs. Clearly, abstinence-only education has not gotten our state the results for which many had hoped.

In case you’re thinking this isn’t your problem, think again. Teen pregnancy is everyone’s problem. Less than half of teen mothers ever graduate from high school. Almost one-third of daughters born to mothers under 17 become teen mothers themselves. Sons of teen mothers are more than twice as likely to end up in prison. And children of teen mothers are nearly 20 percent less likely to earn a high school diploma than children whose mothers were 20 or 21.

Still think this isn’t your problem? Teens who do not finish high school have a huge impact on our economy. Nearly half of all dropouts ages 16-24 are unemployed. Our state alone could save hundreds of millions of dollars in health care costs if more students graduated, not to mention the crime-related savings. High school dropouts are 3.5 times as likely to be arrested in their lifetimes, and the majority of inmates in federal and state prisons never completed high school.

Maybe, after all this, you still think it’s not up to you to advocate for better sexuality education for our teens. But did you know that most of the costs of teen childbearing are associated with negative consequences for the children of teen mothers? The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy shows that in Washington in 2004, annual taxpayer costs associated with children born to teen mothers included:

• $42 million for public health care (Medicaid and SCHIP).

• $43 million for child welfare.

• $34 million for incarceration.

• $41 million in lost tax revenue, due to decreased earnings and spending.

We need to be smarter about how we spend our money — and stop this vicious cycle. And we each need to do something to help. Here are simple ways you can take action and change these statistics so they show improvement:

• Support the current budget proposal that directs federal funding and mandates away from abstinence-only education programs and toward proven teen pregnancy prevention programs. Contact your senators and representative with your support.

• Support local, state and national efforts for comprehensive sexuality education. Comprehensive sexuality education includes information about healthy relationships, decision-making and abstinence, in addition to information about contraceptive use and disease prevention methods. Youth get the whole picture, rather than a narrow slice.

• Become a mentor through our local Communities In Schools PASS Mentor program. With an hour a week, you can make a huge impact on a student’s life and participate in local dropout prevention efforts. Contact Tracy Oster at (253) 528-0847 to volunteer.

We need to deal with the increase in unintended teen pregnancy in our state and in our country in new ways, and it’s going to take all of us. Our youth need the information that comprehensive sexuality education provides. Step up and be part of the solution.

Sources

• The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancies: www.thenationalcampaign.org

• Sexuality Information and Education Council for the United States: www.siecus.org

• Washington State Department of Health: www.doh.wa.gov

• Communities In Schools: www.ciswa.org/about/dropoutfacts

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