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Programme meant to deter teenage pregnancies actually makes them more likely

These type of pregnancy programmes are used in 89 countries around the world – this new study casts serious doubt over them.

Image: Shutterstock/tommaso lizzul

A TEENAGE PREGNANCY prevention programme involving a baby simulator does not appear to have any long-term effect on reducing the risk of teenage pregnancy.

According to the first randomised controlled trial to test the effectiveness of this intervention, teenage girls who took part in the Australian programme were more, not less, likely to become pregnant compared to girls who did not take part.

The study published in The Lancet last night, involved a total of 57 schools in Western Australia. The study was conducted because “despite growing popularity and an increasing global presence of such programmes, there is no published evidence of their long-term impact”.

These type of pregnancy prevention programmes are reportedly delivered in 89 countries, and the authors of this Australian trial warn that the intervention is likely to be an ineffective use of public funds to prevent teenage pregnancy.

shutterstock_439271398 Source: Shutterstock/Tatyana Aksenova

The aim of the Virtual Infant Parenting (VIP) programme is to show students the impact drugs and alcohol have on early child development, and is an Australian adaptation of the US health programme RealityWorks, sometimes referred to as ‘Baby Think It Over’.

What do these programmes involve?

The VIP programme is delivered by school nurses over six consecutive days and includes educational sessions, a workbook, watching a video documentary of teenage mothers talking about their experiences, and caring for an infant simulator over the weekend.

The educational sessions include classes on the impact of not smoking, drinking or taking drugs on a healthy pregnancy, good nutrition, the financial costs of having a baby, sexual health, contraception, and respectful relationships.

The infant simulator is a doll that cries when it needs to be fed, burped, rocked or changed and measures and reports on mishandling, crying time, the number of changes and general care.

shutterstock_328953575 Source: Shutterstock/matka_Wariatka

The use of infant simulator programmes is common in developed countries and their use is increasing in low- and middle-income countries.

Despite this, there is no robust evidence of their effectiveness. While some studies have looked at the effect on girls’ intentions to get pregnant, or attitudes to pregnancy, no randomised trials have objectively measured the impact on pregnancy.

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The study’s researchers linked information to data from hospital records and abortion clinics. All girls were aged 13-15 at the start of the study and they were followed until the age of 20.

Compared to girls in the control group (who didn’t partake in the programme), girls enrolled on the VIP programme had higher rates of pregnancy and abortion. 8% of the girls in the intervention group had at least one birth, compared to 4% in the control group.

Responding to the study, Professor Julie A Quinlivan, University of Notre Dame Australia, said that there were a few reasons why the intervention does not work.

She says:

The cure for teenage pregnancy is more difficult than a magic doll. We have to address both mothers and fathers.

“Programmes need to start in infancy. Investment in vulnerable children is needed to entice these adolescents from the path of premature parenthood into brighter futures. We cannot afford the quick fix, especially when it doesn’t work.”

Read: Having a child has a major negative impact on women’s take-home pay

Read: There’s been a huge jump in inheritance tax takings – and nieces and nephews are hit the most

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