NOT EVERYONE was surprised by the revelations of Bill Moyers' television documentary and Leon Dash's series in this paper, both of which dealt with teen-age pregnancy. The problem has been a festering one in this city and almost two years ago, Mayor Marion Barry appointed a blue ribbon panel to study the phenomenon. The panel, chaired by Dr. Joyce Ladner of the Howard University School of Social Work, held hearings throughout the city, listened to teen-agers and parents as well as experts, and came up with dozens of recommendations. What has been done to implement them?
Many of the proposals were designed to alert the community to facts about teen-age pregnancy -- that it is widespread here, that its greatest impact is on poor youngsters and that it is costly to the public. Most of us now accept these facts and want to do something about them. The discouraging truth, though, is that this is not primarily a problem that can be solved by government. Attitudes and behavior must change, and this must begin with the family and the values that parents impart to youngsters. The panel, therefore, had much to say about involving families and churches in teen-age pregnancy prevention and some important programs -- in particular a few directed at male teen- agers -- have been established.
Government also has a role, though it is not as direct. The panel made specific suggestions on improving school services and curriculum, providing better counseling and health care, stepping up youth training and employment services, and giving special attention to the high-risk population in public housing. Steps that have been taken include the funding of a number of public-private programs in the area of maternal and child health, and the establishment of a hotline for teen-agers who need information or counseling about pregnancy.
Because the challenge of teen-age pregnancy prevention must be addressed by a number of city agencies having different expertise and responsibilities, the panel strongly endorsed the creation of a new position on the mayor's personal staff to coordinate the program. Mayor Barry greeted this recommendation with enthusiasm last May and promised to appoint someone at the level of special assistant -- he now has only seven -- to direct the city's efforts on this problem and the related one of infant mortality. But so far he has not taken this step. The mayor has interviewed a number of candidates -- he says a dozen have turned him down -- but the time has come to make a choice. Creating a new staff position won't end teen-age pregnancy, but it will underscore the city's concern and improve the delivery of public services directed at this specific goal. The city has moved early to meet this crisis, and the blue ribbon panel produced a thoughtful and intelligent set of suggestions. A high-level coordinator on the mayor's staff is needed to build on this good beginning.