Research Roundup: Considering Culture to Reduce Teen Pregnancy in the Latino Community

Photograph of a Latina couple taking their picture together with a camera phone.

Teen birth rates are falling in this country, and have been, fairly consistently, for a number of years. But U.S. teens are still getting pregnant and giving birth at rates that are substantially higher than those of other western industrialized nations. And sub-groups of young people continue to get pregnant and become teen parents at rates that are even higher than the national average.

In an analysis of trends in teen births from 1981 to 2006, published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in 2011, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention used birth certificate data to break down teen births by the age, race and ethnicity of the mother. They wanted to find out more precisely where the disparities were in order to better target the young people most at risk.

What they found, among other things, was that Hispanic teens have significantly higher birth rates than non-Hispanics in all three of the age ranges they studied – 10-14 year olds, 15-17 year olds and 18-19 year olds. Though the most recent data used for this study is 7 years old, they say that the overall trend clearly points to the need for services that better target Hispanic young people.

Making Services More Relevant to Latinos

But what do effective services for Latinos look like? The Family and Youth Services Bureau, the Office of Adolescent Health and the CDC have funded a number of projects to build that evidence base. But so far, the research is still pretty thin. Social scientists in New York and London recently conducted a review of the existing literature in an effort to pinpoint strategies youth-serving agencies might use to reduce sexual risk behavior in Latino youth.

Their paper, published in the Journal of Clinical Social Work, highlighted three factors that research shows can make a difference for Latinos:

  • High quality communication between parents and adolescents
  • Relationships between parents and adolescents that are based on mutual warmth, closeness and trust
  • Parental supervision and monitoring that sets high expectations for behavior, monitors behavior, and provides inducements or disciplinary action to encourage behavior

The authors recommend that practitioners help parents incorporate these "protective factors" into their relationships with their children.

Building Interventions for Latino Youth

Some researchers believe that interventions that are built with Latinos in mind from the get-go and with input from Latino families may be more effective. To test that theory, a team of researchers from the University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, worked with Latino families in their rural, southern community to design a  teen pregnancy prevention intervention called the Family-Festival Prevention Model. In a paper published in the Journal of Family Social Work, they lay out the theories behind the model and discuss its first implementation. 

While using the evidence-based curriculum Choosing the Best, the intervention is built around an all-day festival that includes the families of each of the participants as well as the greater community. The design responded to the community's need for:

  • Strategies to engage fathers, who don't typically communicate with children around sexual health
  • Involvement of community members, particularly faith leaders and employers at the plants that employ the fathers
  • Fun, free activities that families can do in their limited relaxation time
  • Ways to express their cultural and immigrant experiences

The event was held in fall 2010, with more than 400 Latino youth and families participating. Results of the study will be published in a subsequent paper.

Read the Articles

Recent Changes in the Trends of Teen Birth Rates, 1981-2006” (abstract). Journal of Adolescent Health, Vol. 48, No. 3 (March 2011).
Latino Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health Behaviors and Outcomes: Research Informed Guidance for Agency-Based Practitioners” (abstract). Clinical Social Work Journal, Vol. 40, No. 2 (June 2012).
A Participant-Informed Model for Preventing Teen Pregnancy in a Rural Latino Community” (abstract). Journal of Family Social Work, Vol. 16, No. 1 (2013).

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