As the first of 170 mayors trickled into the city Friday, the 56th U.S. Mayors Conference Task Force on Teenage Pregnancy unveiled a resolution calling for federal funds to fight teenage pregnancies and support teen families.
The task force was one of the first of eight standing committees created to meet during the annual gathering of city bosses, held this year for the first time in Salt Lake City.Mayors from across the nation slowly began arriving at the Red Lion Hotel in downtown Salt Lake City Friday afternoon, greeted by scores of volunteers and enjoying red carpet treatment from Salt Lake City Mayor Palmer DePaulis.
Calling this election year "an invitation to participate," teenage pregnancy task force chairman and Seattle Mayor Charles Royer said mayors will use the proposal to lobby Republican and Democratic presidential candidates now forming their platforms on issues such as teen pregnancy.
"Politics are right for this issue to emerge in both parties . . . children's issues are right on top of everybody's agenda," he said.
Royer identified the upcoming post-Reagan era as a unique opportunity to impress policymakers running for office.
The resolution calls for federal assistance to cities in the form of matching-fund grants to create programs to explore ways to prevent teenage pregnancies.
In addition, Royer said, "a continuum of support" for teenagers with infants doesn't exist and should be developed.
Royer said it is too early to say how much the program would cost, but said similar grants for cities nationwide cost $20 million in federal funds, excluding matching contributions from cities.
"Certainly, you're not talking about any type of break-the-bank program," he said.
Once successful tactics for combating the "terrible problem of teenage pregnancies" are discovered, they can be woven into national policy, Royer said.
The resolution, informally agreed upon by the task force, will be considered Saturday by the mayors' health committee and then, with 48 other resolutions, acted upon by all 170 mayors at the conference.
Seattle surveys target several means of curbing teenage pregnancies. Educating children in school on sexuality, encouraging teens to delay intercourse and establishing adolescent health-care centers are some, Royer said.
But many of these programs, which also exist nationwide, are not coordinated with other programs and are not effectively targeted at those groups most affected by teen pregnancies, he said.
Minneapolis Mayor Donald Fraser said institutions like Head Start and other early childhood education programs are instrumental in developing self-esteem necessary to prevent teenage pregnancies.
Many pregnancies are a result of teens believing they have no hope and searching for an outlet for love, Royer said.
"If that turns out to be a baby, that's a good option. But we think there are better options," he said.
Studies from other areas in the United States show that teens with children should be encouraged to stay in high school to help them win jobs and stay off inadequate welfare rolls, Royer said.
Minneapolis has had success in supporting teenage mothers while keeping them in high school - and off welfare - by establishing day-care centers near city high schools, Fraser said.
Utah's teenage pregnancy rate is 30 percent lower than the overall national rate and 20 percent below the rate for white teenagers, according to a 1988 report by the Governor's Task Force on Teenage Pregnancy.
Before approving the resolution, the task force added wording expressing their concern over other factors they agreed contribute to the problem of teenage pregnancies.
Fraser said the nation's welfare system promotes teen pregnancies.
"I feel our welfare system is what is contributing to the problem," he said, saying welfare bankrolls teen mothers who don't have jobs.
In Minneapolis, government leaders have developed a "children's supplement" program that provides money for low-income families who find minimum-wage jobs that might not otherwise support them.