A special panel recommended yesterday that a permanent city agency be formed to create and oversee programs aimed at reducing the pregnancy rate of Washington adolescents, which is one of the highest in the nation.
The panel on teen-age pregnancy prevention, formed by Mayor Marion Barry a year ago, reported that one in five babies born in the District is born to a teen-ager. In Wards 7 and 8, east of the Anacostia River, the figure on births to teen-agers is about one in four, the panel's final report stated.
Solutions, the report concluded, will require a wide range of community-based programs that emphasize innovative approaches rather than traditional ones. A permanent Teen-age Pregnancy Prevention Community Awareness Project, the report said, should be responsible for establishing and implementing several of the panel's recommendations.
Barry immediately promised to appoint an aide to focus on the problem.
Too often, teen-age pregnancy has been approached as if it were a disease, curable by educating teen-agers about sex and birth control, the report said.
Instead, the report offers complex socio ogical explanations for many adolescent pregnancies, especially those that occur among poor people, who have a disproportionately high rate of adolescent pregnancy here.
Among such groups, according to the report, many teen-agers suffer from low self-esteem, are fatalistic and chronically depressed, and live in disrupted families that are often financially and emotionally deprived.
"Consolation is found in immediate gratification in the present," the report said. "Babies become fantasized partners who will provide love and affection."
In a city with a 70 percent black population, the report concluded, there is a link between exceedingly high teen-age birth rates among D.C. blacks and the destructive effects of poverty and urbanization on the black family.
"Many of the families are without the strengths they possessed just one decade ago," the report said, citing the ravages of high unemployment, crime, drug and alcohol abuse and poor housing conditions. But the panel also found rapidly increasing teen-age pregnancy among whites who do not share those same social problems.
Having children, according to the report, perhaps may be the only way for some teen-agers to establish their femininity or masculinity.
Teen-age pregnancy is a problem in other American big cities as well, with Washington ranking near the top of the list in recent years but behind Baltimore and some other urban areas.
The panel suggested that programs and experts dealing with adolescent pregnancy begin to focus on the behavior that produces "premature pregnancy" and the care of the pregnant adolescent rather than on the cure and the clinical aspects.
"Becoming a teen-age parent is coupled with other problems which afflict high-risk youth, such as substance abuse, child neglect and abuse, school dropout, unemployment and crime," the report says. "Therefore, teen pregnancy cannot continue to be viewed and treated in isolation . . . . It affects the society as a whole."
Barry, who praised the 78-page report in a presentation at the downtown offices of the D.C. Medical Society, said he plans to study its recommendations, one of which urges him to launch a city-wide initiative to reduce teen-age pregnancy.
"Some of the recommendations require a realignment of existing staff and funds," Barry said. "Some are going to cost money not already in anybody's budgets."
Barry did promise to hire a full-time special assistant -- following one of the panel's recommendations -- to "coordinate, to work, push and pull and let me know what I need to do more of" on teen-age pregnancy prevention issues.
David E. Rivers, director of the D.C. Department of Human Services, said his office will be sorting through the report's findings over the next 30 days. "One thing we have to look at -- a key point -- is cost implications," he said.
Panel chair Joyce A. Ladner said the issue of teen-age pregnancy and its accompanying string of social and economic ills is one of the city's "most pressing and persistent problems."
In the District, about 64 percent of all teen-agers are sexually active, the panel reported. From 1979 to 1983, an average of 1,932 babies a year were born here to teen-age mothers.
The panel also reports a high correlation between teen-age pregnancy and high infant mortality rates. In 1983, the infant mortality rate in the District was 18.2 per thousand births, the highest in the nation.
Children born to teen-age mothers tend to have low achievement scores in school and are more likely to repeat grades. Most teen-age mothers drop out of school.
Panel chief Ladner said, "Teen pregnancy is often an entry into the cycle of poverty.
"I think the immediate impact of the report is that a lot of people can see the various roles they can play," Ladner said. "We are going to have to be very patient. We just ended phase one. Now the work starts."