Focus on young men in pregnancy prevention

Take a tip from an award-winning adolescent pregnancy prevention program: Recognize that young men are not just part of the problem, but part of the solution as well.

The Mexican American Community Services Agency (MACSA) of San Jose has designed its Male Involvement Program to delay early sexual activities among young boys, educate teens and young adult males on personal sexual responsibility, prevent the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and unplanned pregnancies through edu- cation, and promote fatherhood responsibility.

Enrique Arreola, MACSA division director, estimates the program has reached about 5,000 young men in the first three years of operation. The Male Involvement Program is funded through the California Department of Health Services office of family planning. The program is being evaluated by the University of California, San Francisco.

Now in its fourth year of operation, the MACSA program is one of five to receive 1999 recognition from the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy in Washington, DC.

The National Campaign, founded in 1996, is a nonprofit, nonpartisan initiative focused on preventing teen pregnancy, with a goal to reduce the national teen pregnancy rate by one-third between 1996 and 2005. By helping young men realize they have a bright future that does not need to be derailed by early pregnancy and parenthood, the Male Involvement Program embodies some of the themes that will help reach the National Campaign’s goal, says Bill Albert, communications director.

"Unfortunately, for too long in this country, I think we focused all our adolescent pregnancy prevention initiatives on young girls, but the last time I checked, it takes two to tango," he observes. "In this country, we have begun to recognize if we want our daughters to not get pregnant, we have to talk to our sons as well."

The project area for the Male Involvement Program is Santa Clara County, the fourth largest county in California. More than 40% of the population is composed of ethnic minorities, with Spanish as the second most commonly spoken language. According to county health department fiscal year 1996-1997 statistics, more than 1,900 births to adolescent mothers were recorded, with 71% of births to Hispanic teen-age mothers.

Evaluation figures from the Male Involvement Program show that 83% of participants ages 15 to 17 and more than 95% of those over 18 have had sex. Of these two age groups, 11% and 35%, respectively, are young fathers.

A holistic approach is needed to reach these young men, says Arreola. "I think programs need to recognize other issues that are happening with these participants. As a program, we need to recognize those issues and start getting job placements, company tours, educational tours, financial aid information, as well as provide information on pregnancy prevention, the consequences of dating young girls, how difficult it is to be a young father — give them the whole spectrum."

Targeting 3 age ranges

The Male Involvement Program focuses on three target populations: boys ages 10 to 14, 15 to 19, and 20 to 24. Special emphasis is placed on geographic "hot spots," delineated by ZIP codes as areas of immediate need. Boys ages 10 to 14 are reached through programs at middle schools, community centers, and MACSA’s youth center. Education is centered on teen-age pregnancy prevention and male responsibility.

MACSA focuses its services for male youth ages 15 to 19 through the juvenile probation department, its own youth center, neighborhood health fairs, community service organizations, and local high schools. Educators have recognized the need for the program and have opened their doors to MACSA, Arreola notes.

Young men, primarily Hispanics 20 to 24, are reached through adult education classes, incarceration facilities, trade and special training schools, community centers, neighborhood outreach, and other MACSA programs. These young men represent a crucial population segment, as local health department statistics show that 65% of births to adolescent girls ages 14 to 17 were fathered by adult men over 22. MACSA’s figures indicate that more than 95% of its 20 to 24 age group is sexually active, with 36% noted as young fathers.

Planning for the future

Many of the young men targeted by the program come from low-income households, are raised in high-crime areas, and are exposed to gang activity and drug use at an early age. Prevention and education services in the form of MACSA’s own "Be Proud, Be Responsible" program and the "Independent Thinking Skills" program from L. L. Brown International of Kent, WA, are presented to these young men at risk.

One component of the program, offered at the Elmwood Correctional Facility, has been in place for the past three years, notes Arreola. A similar program is offered for adolescent males through the juvenile probation department. "Our mentality in reaching young men is not just promoting teen pregnancy prevention, but other issues as well," he says. "We have the young men think about their future and setting their goals and eventually they start thinking about education, about opportunities in life for being successful, and the fact that they are not going to want to get a young girl pregnant or date young girls."

Sessions focus on issues such as earning high school diploma equivalency certification, anger management, and substance abuse. Support groups are offered for both adolescents and young men once they leave correctional facilities to further emphasize Male Involvement Program goals.

Having effective male staff has been a key element to MACSA’s success, says Arreola. He credits outreach educator Sammy Nuñez and youth advocate Benjamin Paredez for their dynamic interaction with young men throughout the community.

"Effective program educators are those that have been through certain experiences of what they are preaching," Arreola explains. "You can hire people who have credentials and everything, but if they don’t relate to the student, the program is not going to work."