Tony Davis (left) and Dr. Paula Braverman work with local corrections officers to teach juvenile offenders to make better decisions about their lives and futures.
Every month at the Hamilton County Youth Center, small groups of teen boys at the juvenile detention facility gather to talk about a role in life that few of them are prepared to play: being a father.
More than 1,700 babies a year are born to teen mothers in Hamilton County. Many of those babies were also fathered by a teenager − a father who likely plays no role as a parent.
Despite recent declines in teen birth rates, teen pregnancy remains a major social issue that disrupts the lives of thousands of families every year and costs taxpayers billions in healthcare, foster care and other expenses. The Man2Man: Cincinnati program seeks to reduce the burden of teen pregnancy by focusing on the male half of the equation.
“Many teen pregnancy prevention programs are focused on the mothers, but there is an increasing emphasis on encouraging responsible fatherhood,” says Paula Braverman, MD, director of community programs in the Division of Adolescent Medicine at Cincinnati Children’s.
“Participants learn about contraception and preventing sexually transmitted diseases,” Braverman says. “But it’s much more about learning good communication, understanding relationships and thinking about who they want to be when they get older.”
Cincinnati Children’s launched the program in 2009 in collaboration with the Hamilton County Juvenile Court. Its curriculum is based on a high school program that Braverman helped launch in Philadelphia in collaboration with the Family Planning Council. The biggest changes: the Cincinnati program reflects resources and laws specific to Hamilton County and Ohio and was adapted to fit into a juvenile justice setting.
Man2Man: Cincinnati focuses on youth offenders because they are among the highest risk groups of adolescents for unplanned pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, Braverman says. The program is taught once a month in six straight daily sessions, mostly to boys between 14 and 16 years old. Juvenile corrections officers trained to serve as facilitators lead the two-hour sessions.
The program provides a non-judgmental forum for boys to discuss their thoughts and experiences and to learn from other men, says Tony Davis, a health education specialist at Cincinnati Children’s who trains the facilitators. Many of the boys grew up without a father at home, so the sessions often get into new territory for them.
“We talk about the meaning of manhood and what it takes to support and protect a family, the financial costs and the time commitments. We talk about how important it is to be there for your child,” Davis says.
The program is too new to measure its impact on teen pregnancy rates. But Braverman says before-and-after surveys show progress has occurred. “The participants show improvement in their knowledge about responsible behavior, changes in their intentions and increased confidence to engage in preventive behaviors,” she says.
Davis says the program also makes differences in ways that may not show up in statistics.
“Anytime you make an impact on one individual and change their perspective, it helps reduce the problems faced by the larger community,” Davis says.