Teen pregnancy especially high among Minnesota’s Latinas


Minnesota’s teen birth rate increased 7 percent between 2005 and 2006, the Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting reported. The organization also reported that the teen birth rate among Minnesota’s Latinas increased considerably more—by 13 percent. Experts point to a lack of sex education and communication among Latino teens and their families. They say information and opportunities can help decrease the ever-growing trend of teen pregnancy.

Perhaps a record number of Latina teenagers in Minnesota are getting pregnant today, and community leaders are working to reverse it.

Minnesota’s teen birth rate increased 7 percent between 2005 and 2006, according to the St. Paul nonprofit Minnesota Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Prevention and Parenting, or MOAPPP. The organization reported that this increase is more than twice the increase at the national level.

Among Minnesota’s Latina teenagers, however, MOAPPP reported a considerable 13 percent increase in the teen birth rate from 2005 to 2006.

“For 10 to 12 years now, the Latina rate has always been the highest in Minnesota,” MOAPPP director Brigid Riley said, noting that the 2005-2006 increase is especially significant.

With an increase in teen pregnancy comes an increase in the possibility of the negative consequences that accompany it—for any race or ethnicity.

“In general, there is the problem of premature birth and underweight babies,” Dr. Veronica Svetaz of the Hennepin Family Care East Lake Clinic said, “but the most concerning part of teen pregnancy, in my opinion, is the effects on the mental and social health.”

Dr. Svetaz said teen pregnancy can lead young mothers to depression and isolation, hurting their chances of continuing school, getting into college, getting a job and leading emotionally successful lives.

A financial cost for families and communities also accompany teen pregnancies. In Hennepin County alone, according to a 2007 county report, Latina teen pregnancies had a total cost of $7.3 million in 2004. The report states that estimate includes health care, foster care and public assistance costs, which are paid for by the teens, their families and the greater community.

The county also reported over half of its families currently on welfare started with a teen pregnancy.

The case of Hennepin County isn’t special; counties across the state experience and have to pay for teen pregnancies.

“The reasons for early pregnancy are multidimensional,” Dr. Svetaz said. “It’s not just about a lack of health education, a lack of health service—it’s a constellation of things.”

A recent cut in sex and health education in Minnesota’s schools is often faulted for partly contributing to the statewide increase in teen pregnancy.

“Now sex education is not required for graduation,” Riley said. “Like band, art and other activities, health education has been scaled back at schools.”

“Schools are one of the best places to teach sex education,” Dr. Svetaz said, “because they’re the places where teenagers have the most contact with professionals.”

David Albornoz, director of a youth development organization in Minneapolis, said the community also needs to work to provide more after-school opportunities to Latino youth to avoid issues like teen pregnancy.

“Kids spend 50 percent of their time inside school and 50 percent outside of school,” he said. “We need to make sure they know they do have a chance and have other opportunities.”

Albornoz said his organization, La Escuelita, provides after-school enrichment activities.

In order for any youth development program to successfully combat issues like teen pregnancy, Albornoz said, it needs to have the support and trust of the community.

“I don’t believe in outsiders coming to ‘rescue’ us,” he said. “I’d recommend any program have a community assessment and get leaders involved. Then, with the trust of the community, the plan can work. The step of getting the community involved and trusting is often skipped.”

Q Health Connections, part of Southside Community Health Services, is one example of a local youth development organization that’s taken the steps to fit into and gain the trust of the community.

Coordinator Camille Thomas said one of the Q Health Connections programs, “Plain Talk,” is a nationwide program but in Minneapolis is specifically designed for and serves the Bryant and Central neighborhoods.

Before actually starting the program, Thomas said Q Health Connections surveyed the neighborhoods, discovered the Latino and African American families in the area lacked health education and designed the program to specifically help those families.

“First, we find someone willing to host and then that person invites whoever they want,” Thomas said. “We go into the home in the neighborhood. We talk—in English and Spanish—to the families about pregnancy, [sexually transmitted diseases] and health issues.”

Thomas stressed that simply giving teens and families information about health, sex and pregnancy is crucial. Many agree.

She said she also recognizes it’s not easy for families—particularly Latino ones—to talk about issues like pregnancy. That’s why the program meets with families in their homes, where they’re comfortable, she said.

Thomas said she’s very pleased with the program’s success since it started last year. It’s gotten a lot of families talking about important issues, she said.

“We tend to push this issue to the side when really it’s in our face,” she said.

MOAPPP provides free guides for Latino families to talk about sex. The guides are available online: and .