08/07/2009

Youth Programme Pilot 'Did Not Reduce Teenage Pregnancies'

A government-backed pilot scheme to help cut pregnancies among teenagers at risk has been abandoned as it failed to have any significant impact.

An independent review published today by the bmj.com was commissioned by the Department of Health to examine the £5.9m Young People’s Development Programme (YPDP).

The scheme had been developed to offer support and advice to disadvantaged teenagers in 27 parts of England between 2004 and 2007.

However, it found that those who took part were actually more likely to fall pregnant than those in comparable groups.

The study included over 2,500 young people aged 13 to 15 years who were deemed by professionals to be vulnerable or at risk of teenage pregnancy, substance misuse, or school exclusion.

Participants were either taking part in YPDP (intervention group) or a youth programme not receiving YPDP funds (comparison group). Measures including pregnancy, weekly cannabis use, and monthly drunkenness were assessed at 18 months.

Key results reveal significantly more pregnancies among young women in the YPDP group than in the comparison group (16% versus 6%). Young women in the YPDP group also more commonly reported early heterosexual experience (58% versus 33%) and expectation of teenage parenthood (34% versus 24%).

Significantly more young people in the YPDP group also reported truanting in the previous six months than in the comparison group.

The authors found "no definite explanation for the findings". For example, it stated, one obvious explanation is that young people in the YPDP group were more at risk at the start of the study, yet the authors show that YPDP group participants were no more sexually active than those in the comparison group and adjusted for other differences.

Other plausible causes may involve participants being exposed to more risky peers and being labelled as problematic.

The study was carried out by Meg Wiggins, from the Institute of Education at the University of London and Chris Bonell, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, who were commissioned by the Department of Health to independently evaluate the programme.

They concluded: "Among young women, YPDP participants more commonly reported teenage pregnancies, early heterosexual sex and expectation of becoming a teenage parent, as well as temporary exclusion from school and truancy.

“No evidence was found that the intervention was effective in delaying heterosexual experience or reducing pregnancies, drunkenness or cannabis use. Some results suggested an adverse effect."

Despite the results of the study, Ms Wiggins insisted the programme was not a complete failure.

She told Sky News online: "Although obviously it could not work in its present form, the project was not a waste of time.

"We've had young people tell us that their lives improved and they credited the programme to helping to change their lives around."

(JM/BMcC)

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