Follow The Boys: Pregnancy Prevention Efforts Now Aimed at Teen Males

Marth Shirk and Bill Alexander
September 1, 1997

After decades of teen pregnancy prevention efforts that focused overwhelmingly on females with decidedly disappointing results, family planning and youth programs are starting to realize that it also takes a male to produce a pregnancy.

An avalanche of teen fatherhood programs, initiatives, conferences, task forces, newsletters, monographs, government and foundation research proposals, evaluations and studies has hurtled upon a landscape previously the near-exclusive province of unwed teen mothers. Heavyweight boxing champion Evander Holyfield, father of six, visited members of a House education subcommittee recently to promote "responsible fatherhood" and confess that "I made a lot of mistakes because my father was not there."

The result of this upsurge in national attention is a plethora of new pregnancy prevention programs aimed at male teens. Whether they are called "Be a Man, "Rites of Passage,” or "My Child Says Daddy,” most deliver a two-pronged message; it's not a good idea to sire a child while you're still a child yourself, but if you do, it's your responsibility to be a good father.

The message is simple enough, but the methods vary and there is static in the air as to whose program is better, who was there first, and which organization is filching ideas and jockeying for the limelight while elbowing out older organizations seemingly passed over for current, high-profile campaigns. A soon-to-be-released study reveals that a basic difference exists in program objectives between fatherhood program managers and funders over the emotional ("heart") vs. the legal ("head") approach. In addition, a number of fatherhood groups focused primarily on involving African-American and Latino teen fathers in the nurturing of their children sharply criticize punitive "dead-beat dad" public and private efforts as seriously off-message in trying to reach this population.

'Work On The Whole Man'

There is no contention in the ranks, however, on the ever-escalating problem of father-absent homes. Fatherlessness is not only viewed as a cause of child poverty, but has also been shown to affect child development and children's prospects for later academic and workforce success. On an annual basis, the number of children fathered out of wedlock now surpasses the number of children whose parents divorce. Although the absolute number of births to unmarried teenagers has declined slightly in recent years, the percentage of teenagers who give birth out of wed-lock increased by 44 percent between 1985 and 1992. As of now, 76 percent of all births to teenagers, nationwide are out of wedlock. According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 73 percent of young men today have had intercourse by age 18, compared with 55 percent of young men in the early 1970s.

The consequences to teen fathers of an unplanned birth are not as serious as those for teen mothers, but raise formidable problems for young men ill-prepared for parenthood. Studies show that teen dads finish an average of only 11.3 years of school by the age of 27, while those who delay fathering until at least age 21 complete 13 years. By age 27, teen fathers earn an average of $4,732 less each year than those who delay parenthood until at least age 20.

The highest number of father-absent families — and growing the fastest — is in the white community. Currently over 13 million white children reside in father-absent homes, compared to approximately 6.5 million African-American children. But African Americans are disproportionately affected by the problem of father absence, with some 62 percent of African American children living in such homes.

"A young man without a socioeconomic- political future is not inclined to heed warnings that come from the power groups in society," said Baltimore's Ademola Ekulona, an inner-city fatherhood program consultant and president of the Task Force on Male Involvement for the (Maryland) Governor's Council on Adolescent Pregnancy. "We must work on the whole man, not just his passionate parts."

Hector Sanchez-Flores of Los Compadres, a fatherhood project in Santa Maria, Calif. that serves a mostly first-generation Mexican American population, derides the "deadbeat dad" approach so popular with public policymakers by saying. "I've never met a young man with cash." He, like Ekulona, believes that "we should find out what these young men are about above the waist...and redefine macho as being caring and responsible."

Not Invited

Ekulona and Sanchez-Flores were among several consultants and pro-gram heads from around the country with "hands-on" experience invited by the Washington, D.C.-based National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy to its first roundtable meeting dealing with "male involvement" in teen pregnancies. Theodora Ooms, of the Family Impact Seminar and a campaign task force member, wrote in a back ground paper that served as an agenda for the discussion: "Most experts agree that men — as peers, adult teachers, counselors, fathers and role models — can more effectively communicate with boys and young men about topics related to sex and pregnancy than women. Therefore, teen pregnancy prevention efforts need men's ideas, their personal and organizational resources, and, most importantly, their leadership."

Not invited to the conclave was fatherhood program pioneer Charles Ballard, founder of the Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitalization, whose organization is located some two blocks from the campaign's headquarters.

"Invited? I didn't even know about it," says Ballard, who began his organization, which now has eight sites around the county. as the Teen Fathers Program in Cleveland in 1982. "We've been around here all these years, but everyone is now an expert and because of envy and jealousy they want to push us out and ease us aside. I started the father-hood movement in 1976 and people have taken our name and not given us credit."

Ballard's organization employs husband-and-wife teams who are first trained and then sent to live among those they are offering services in such site-cities as Atlanta and Milwaukee. Declares Ballard: "All the energy is in the communities, not in meetings. You must work from within by walking the streets and knocking on doors. You don't have to learn Ebonies, but you have to understand what people are saying. Those doubletalk ads that say, 'Any man can be a dad' create paternity. Outside groups create those mixed messages they get the money, but won't come into the community. If I'm at a roundtable, I'll say these I'm not invited."

Funders, Managers Differ

The prime backer of Ballard's program, the Ford Foundation, has co sponsored along with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), an "evaluability assessment" of fatherhood efforts that focused on five programs. It was discovered that the program managers' primary objectives were at variance with those of the funders. For example, program managers rated as their top three objectives: 1) increase education and employment; 2) reduce alcohol and drug use; and 3) improve parenting skills. But for funders, the top three objectives were: 1) reduce unplanned child-bearing; 2) reduce criminal involvement; and 3) increase paternity establishment.

"There's no controversy," said Ford's Project Officer Ronald Mincy. "Private funders are leaders in this area, but they have small change. The resources come from the bi public sector, where conversation won't get started [over funding] unless paternity is established — so it's up to the private funders to better align nonprofit services to [the requirements of] public funds. Program managers can bemoan this...but this is true."

Mincy points to years of "above the waist" efforts by the foundation's Strengthening Fragile Families Initiative to, among other things, demonstrate how services to teen fathers could reduce teen pregnancy. It was the foundation's $2-million grant that took Ballard's institute national in 1996, (YT, July/August 1996) but the new reality is, according to sources, that Mincy is working closely with the deputy director of the Federal Office of Child Support and Enforcement, David Ross, to ensure that Ford's funding guidelines dovetail with public policy. So Ballard's "heart" approach of an economic plan that would make teen fathers "carpenters and bricklayers" first so they can claim investment in the community and their family may be in for whiplash when it collides with the government's "head" approach. Ballard's Ford grant runs out next year, and he very much wants it renewed, but, he says, "If we stop providing services because Ford stops the grant, we're irresponsible. I'm still held accountable, no matter what Ford does."

'Man In The House' Out

The National Strategy to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (separate from the non-governmental National Campaign), run out of HHS, is interested primarily in promoting more research on the role of males in teen pregnancies. A request for proposals went out in May for $1 million in grants for applied research on male involvement in pregnancy prevention. An HHS spokeswoman said "four to six" grants will be awarded in late September.

"It's quite an issue," said Barbara Cohen of HHS' Office of Population Affairs, the agency's delegate to the National Strategy's subgroup on boys and young men. "The climate is right now in the department to get a lot of play with this."

Although HHS administers the huge Title X family planning program, which provides almost $200 million a year to family planning clinics, only about 2 percent of its grants fund services to males (mostly the distribution of condoms.) The agency's Adolescent Family Life program, created in 1 9 8 1, also has paid scant attention to males. And the very name of the $1 billion Title V pro-gram Maternal and Child; Health Services Block Grant says everything about its focus.

Adding to the interest in male teens is the overhaul of the welfare system and its mandate to both reduce teen pregnancies and increase fathers' involvement with their children, at least financially. Since the excision of the "man in the house" provision of public assistance that made a family ineligible for cash benefits if a man was living in the home, 24 states have thus far chosen to extend welfare payments to households where two parents are pre-sent. Hardball tactics, however, are still prevalent nationwide to crack down on fathers not paying child support. States such as Maryland suspend driver's licenses to turn up the pressure on so-called 'deadbeat dads.' But the under-lying reason for the new emphasis on male teens may be that it's becoming increasingly clear that prevention pro-grams aimed solely at girls aren't working well enough.

'Children As Property'

We need another way of thinking," posits David Levy, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Children's Rights council. "The present thinking is overwhelmingly economic...with the child being thought of [by policymakers] as property. Fathers are being pushed and shoved away by these policies. A more involved father will contribute to the financial well-being of a household. This emotional emphasis after long-ago warnings from (New York Senator Daniel Patrick] Moynihan and others is at least 30 years overdue."

Vivian Gadsden, director of the National Center for Fathers and Families in Philadelphia, sees the new interest in young males as a positive development. "If you can start talking to young boys earlier and give them a glimpse of their legal and personal responsibilities and the hard work it takes to parent, then maybe they'll think twice about engaging in behavior that leads to early fatherhood," she said.

Kirk Harris, director of the Chicago- based Center on Fathers, Families and Public Policy agrees. "It's good news that men are coming to be seen as a piece of the partnership with regard to children," he said. "It's also good that people are beginning to fund programs in support of men. In the past, many social service agencies have not been very understanding about the need to provide services to men. They've been regarded as predatory, or somehow dangerous. And maybe because of their egos, males have not been very wilting to seek ser-vices."

Philadelphia's Public/Private Ventures (P/PV), in collaboration with the New York-based Manpower Demonstration Research Corp., played an important role in spurring mate involvement programs with its Young Unwed Fathers' Pilot Project, which began in 1991 at six sites around the country "We recognized that there were a lot of young fathers involved in many of the programs pro-viding employment training, Job placement and education, and the thinking initially was to see whether a curriculum that addressed some very fundamental issues around the role and responsibilities of fathers could be integrated into these larger programs," said Katherine Ferrano, a P/PV spokeswoman.

About 300 youth workers or family planning specialists in 10 cities took the training. Although P/PV has moved on to other projects, the D.C.-based National Center for Strategic Nonprofit Planning and Community Leadership, run by Jeffrey Johnson. is still providing training in the curriculum thanks to a $195,000 grant to involve young fathers and a $500,000 training and assistance grant, both from the Ford Foundation.

Programs that involve males are now sprouting at such a rapid pace that no one can say with any certainty how many there are. That's one reason Gadsden's center is trying to compile a national directory of them. So far, 886 programs have been identified nation-wide.

More Than a Condom

Around the country, male-involvement programs run the gamut from narrowly focused efforts to prevent sexually transmitted diseases and teen fatherhood to comprehensive coming-of-age programs that might just as accurately be called "violence prevention," "gang reduction," or "dropout prevention" programs. The best share the belief that giving a young man a positive vision for his future is the surest way of preventing him from becoming a father too soon.

Here are a few programs with enough longevity to have track records:

Family Life Council of Greater Greensboro, Inc., launched its "Wise Guys" male responsibility program in 1990 with a grant from the North Carolina Department of Environment, Health and Natural Resources. Since then, it's also received funding from the United Way of Greater Greensboro, the Greensboro Jaycees and the city of Greensboro.

The "Wise Guys" program has lour components:

-For 10 through 14-year-olds, there's a 10-to l2-week program that helps them answer questions such as "Who am I?" "Where am I going?" and "How do I get there?

-For 15 through 19-year-olds, the program includes presentations on sexuality, healthy relationships and sexual responsibility.

-"Talking with Adolescents about Sexuality" is a program for parents of 10 through 14-year-olds, emphasizing the importance excommunicating family values about sexuality.

"Wise Guys" program specialists provide training for other youth workers who work with males. "Wise Guys" sells its curriculum for $125, or provides on site training for $500 for one day, and $250 for a second day plus expenses. It was selected as one of North Carolina's "Best Practice Models" in 1995 by the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Coalition of North Carolina.

Does it work? A study of 335 "Wise Guys" participants and 145 control group students found several positive outcomes: a better understanding about sexuality, birth control and sex roles; improved communication with parents, and a 28 percent increase in contraceptive use by participants who were already sexually active when they began the program.

A separate program called "Good Beginnings for Teen Parents" has served more than 1,200 young mothers and fathers since 1988.

In Trenton, N.J, the Union Industrial Home for Children, the oldest child care agency in New Jersey, and Planned Parenthood of the Mercer Area are working with teen males who have already become fathers. The goals are to prevent a second child and also help them become better fathers. The agencies received a three-year $456,733 grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation in 1989 to launch First Steps, a comprehensive program for fathers under age 20. Continuing funding has come from AT&T Corp. and The Fund for New Jersey.

The Quick Fix Has Failed'

A world away, in Arkansas' poor delta region, the Boys, Girls, and Adults Community Development Center in Marvel, Ark. has been working on pregnancy prevention and responsible fatherhood issues with about 70 adolescent and pre- adolescent males through its D.A.D, program, started with a $300,000 three-year grant from the Kellogg Foundation in 1990. Continuing funding has come from Kellogg, as well as Arkansas Drug Abuse Prevention, Common Ground (a violence prevention program), and Save the Children.

D.A.D. stands for Dealing with Adolescent Development. The program targets boys from single-parent or no-parent homes. Only 2 percent of participants live with both parents.

In a county with the third highest teen pregnancy rate in Arkansas, D.A.D. has an uphill battle to persuade teen males to postpone fatherhood.

"In the past, it's been considered kind of macho to have kids," said Leon dark, the program's coordinator "Unfortunately, three of the young men in the program are already lathers. Two became fathers in their senior years in high school, and one had a girlfriend who was already pregnant when he came into the program."

Even so, the program's overall pregnancy rate is low compared with the county norm. And none of the program's three fathers have lathered a second child.

"In high school, the pattern we often see is that a young man makes one girl pregnant and then moves on to another," dark says. "What we try to instill in these young men is the idea that their child is their blood and their responsibility. We try to teach them that if they don't have a job, they're not responsible enough to take care of a child. And we spend a lot of time discussing the importance of fatherhood. Most of our young men don't have a father in their home, so they don't have any idea of what [hat means."

Like many of the best pregnancy prevention programs, the D.A.D. approach is comprehensive It includes recreation, counseling, health awareness, cultural awareness, leadership development, tutoring, entrepreneurship, discussions about the meaning of manhood, and job training, The program works with youths from age 8 through 18. About three dozen of the participants have been with it since its inception seven years ago.

Among the most widely admired of the programs that involve males is the New York Children's Aid Society's Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program. It originated in Harlem in 1984 and has been replicated in nine other New York communities and 17 cities across the country.

Interest in The Children's Aid Society's approach has made one of its founders, Dr. Michael Carrera, a frequent speaker at family planning and youth work conferences around the country. Although organized around a primary goal of preventing teen pregnancy, Carrera's program embodies most of the principles of traditional youth work. Participants get classes in family life and sex education, full health services, arts education, employment counseling and career awareness, job readiness training, academic assessments and help with home- work, training in individual lifetime sports (like squash and tennis), counseling, and guaranteed admission to City College. All told, the program spends about $3,000 a year per participant — a bargain, considering the cost to society of one birth to a teen who's forced to go on welfare.

"The quick fix has failed," Carrera tells his audiences. "We don't need a quick fix. We need a long fix. Isn't your child worth that? Mine are. And if yours and mine are, then so are the children we work with."

Working with males as well as females — 53 percent of his center's participants are males — is one of the keys to the program's success, Carrera says. "We have a lot of programs that teach young women to say no, but we don't have many programs that teach young men not to ask," he points out.

Carrera criticizes many pregnancy prevention efforts for a lack of vision "The program is the expression of the philosophy," he said. "What's wrong with a lot of programs today is that they're not programs, but a combination of neat little activities... Many programs fail because of fragmentation. The more fragmented the program, the more likely you are to lose the most needy kids," 'Emerging Field.'

One problem with many male involvement programs — indeed, with pregnancy prevention pro-grams in general — is the lack of
research about their effectiveness. A recent evaluation of all federal teen pregnancy programs by Child Trends noted that most had not been evaluated rigorously enough to permit any conclusions about whether they had either succeeded or failed.

Susan Philliber and Pearila Namerow of Philliber Research Associates made the same point in a 1995 study. "We can securely argue that we have not found a curriculum, a single kind of clinic, a community- based approach or any other single intervention that will reduce the troublesome and tenacious rates of pregnancies and births to teenagers," they wrote.

And in "No Easy Answers," a recent review of the research finding on teen pregnancy reduction programs, Douglas Kirby of ETR Associates in Santa Cruz concluded: "Although many programs have been created to reduce the incidence of teen pregnancy, remarkably few have been carefully evaluated according to the highest standards of research."

The Children's Aid Society program is one of the few undergoing rigorous evaluation. Philliber Research Associates is evaluating some of the sites under a grant from the Robin Hood Foundation.

Among Philliber's early findings are that teens in the Children's Aid Society programs are less likely to be sexually active, and those teens who are sexually active are eight times more likely than teens nationally to report using both a condom and oral contraceptive when they had intercourse.

In addition, only one in 25 female participants in the program has become pregnant each year. Nationally, about three of every 25 female teens become pregnant each year. Data weren't provided about how many male participants fathered children.

Besides the low pregnancy rate, other indicators of well-being are also promising. Seventy-six percent of participants graduate from high school in four years, compared with 44 percent of New York City students. And only 22 percent of program seniors report using alcohol in the last 30 days, compared with 51 percent of all U.S. high school seniors. Marijuana usage is on a par with the national rate of about 6 percent.

Philliber Associates is doing a new study using random assignment
data to make sure that positive results aren't due primarily to the participants' high levels of motivation.

"While these new data are being assembled, this preliminary information provides at least some suggestion that these programs may constitute a positive and successful approach to adolescent pregnancy prevention and youth development," the report says. Wade Horn, president of the National Fatherhood Initiative, who attracted bug-eyed publicity at having a tabloid-smeared Frank Gifford grace a recent cover of the organization's annual report is all for targeting pregnancy prevention efforts at young males. "I think we ought to make it a priority to develop an inspirational message for young males as to why they ought to delay sexual activities and the likelihood of becoming a father too early." He said. "But above all, what we ought to do is give young males a real son to want to delay becoming a father and then provide it. We've got to get serious about making sure our youth are prepared to enter the labor force."

Edward Pitt, associate director of the Fatherhood Project at the New York-based Families and Work Institute and a recipient of the Pioneer's Recognition Award presented by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy at its recent roundtable session, sees "a new field emerging." Said Pitt: "The conclusion of the male role in main-stream data and research and the increased number of people working in responsible fathering programs is a very good thing."

Today, he says, there are "new expectations" for success.

National Organizations:

Center on Fathers, Families & Public Policy

200 S. Michigan Ave., l6th Fl.

Chicago, IL 60604

(312) 3410900

Fax: (312) 3419361


The Fatherhood Project

Families and Work Institute

330 Seventh Ave, 14th Fl.

New York, NY 10001

(212) 465-2044

Fax: (212) 4658637

Children's Aid Society National Adolescent Sexuality Training Center
350 East 88th St.

New York, NY 10128

(212) 8769716

The Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitatization

1146 19th St.

Washington, DC 200363703

(202) 293-4420

Fax: (202) 293-4288

National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

2100M St. NW, Ste. 300

Washington, D.C. 20037

(202) 8578655


National Fatherhood Initiative

One Bank St., Ste. 160

Gaithersburg, MD 20878

(301) 9480599



National Center on Fathers and Families

University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education

3700 Walnut St., Box 58

Philadelphia, PA 191046216



National Strategy to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Washington, D.C. 20201

(301) 5954010

Young Unwed Fathers' Pilot Project

Public/Private Ventures

One Commerce Square

2005 Market St., Ste. 900

Philadelphia, PA 19103

(215) 5574400

Local and State Programs:

D.A.D. Program

Boys, Girls and Adults Community

Development Center

P.O. Box 356, Hwy 49

Marvel AK 72366

(870) 8293644

"First Steps" program

Union Industrial Home for Children

219 E. Hanover St.

Trenton, NY 08608

(609) 6953663

Male Involvement Project

Office of Family Planning

California Department of Health Services

7l4 P St., Rm.440

Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 6540757

Fax:(916) 6571608


"Wise Guys" program

Family Life Council of Greater Greensboro, Inc.

30I E. Washington St., Ste. 204

Greensboro, NC 27401

(910) 3336890

Fax: (910) 3336891

Young Men As Fathers Program

Office of Prevention and Victim Services

California Youth Authority

1100 11th St.

Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 3235565

Shirk, Martha and Bill Alexander. "Follow The Boys: Pregnancy Prevention Efforts Now Aimed at Teen Males." Youth Today, Sept/Oct 1997, p. 42 - 47.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.