Dallas city leaders this week heard a new plan to prevent teenage pregnancy, which is considered by experts to be a big contributor to growing Dallas poverty.
The city-wide program will focus especially on three adjacent zip code areas with exceptionally high teen birth rates in Southern Dallas and Oak Cliff.
In the 75215 zip code area near Fair Park, the teen pregnancy rate of 123 per thousand women 15 to 19-years-old is more than five times the national average of 22. In 75203 the rate is 105. In 75216 the rate is 77.
“The figures are startling and we’ve got to figure out how we can better address it,” Dallas City Council Member Dwaine Caraway said. His community district office is in the 75203 zip code area.
“It has to be with the parents,” Caraway said. “It is about the parents.”
He supports the plan presented to a City Council Committee this week to use $300,000 already earmarked for teen pregnancy prevention in this year’s budget.
The group called NTARUPT, short for North Texas Alliance for the Prevention of Teenage Pregnancy, was chosen to partner with the city on the program after a request for proposals.
The program will urge parents to talk with their kids and inquire about what’s happening about reproductive education in schools. It will also highlight the cost of teen pregnancy for taxpayers and make a direct appeal to teens.
“We need to raise awareness about that issue. A lot of people in Dallas may not realize the teen birthrate is so high,” said NTARUPT External Affairs Director Diana Ayala. “The campaign will be disruptive, perhaps a bit controversial, but that is what teens need. We need to meet teens where they are.”
The program does not include birth control but will include referrals to other agencies.
Visiting a doctor Friday with her boys, now 12 and 13 years old, one time teen mother Jessica Chester said she would make different choices if she had the chance again.
“They’re here now so I wouldn’t change a thing, but going back, I would tell my younger self to wait,” Chester said.
Unlike many teen Moms, Chester did finish high school and college but she said it was very difficult.
“There’s a lot of sacrifice involved. The things your friends are doing, you’re not able to do anymore. It’s a lot of putting your thoughts, your dreams, everything you thought you could do in life, kind of have to go on hold,” she said.
As an adult, Chester had two more children with the boy’s father.
“It’s such a different experience as an adult,” she said.
Texas is 5th in the nation for teen pregnancy.
Only 38% of Dallas teen mothers complete high school, according to NTARUPT. The group’s report said teen mothers are less likely to find good jobs and more likely to rely on social programs.
“We want these teens to make better, healthier decisions, so they can have a better future,” Ayala said.
A Dallas City Council Committee endorsed the program this week. A final vote of the full City Council is scheduled next month.