WASHINGTON – Parenthood, jail and death rates for the District’s youths far surpass the national average, according to a 10-year study released Thursday by the philanthropic Carnegie Corp.
The report, written by the Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, shows that 10- to 14-year-olds generally are at risk for damaging their futures by choosing to drink, smoke and engage in sexual behavior at an earlier age than previous generations.
“It is a disturbing fact that about one-quarter of our youth are at high risk for rotten futures, such as educational failure, serious injury and disease and economic incompetence,” said Dr. David Hamburg, president of the Carnegie Corp. and chairman of the council.
“There is so much that can usefully and feasibly be done to prevent the damage now occurring,” said Hamburg. “Yet this fundamental opportunity has so far been largely neglected.”
The council suggested stronger families can make a difference, along with more life-skills lessons being taught in schools, mentor programs and positive television shows.
The study shows that the District has 28,000 adolescents between the ages of 10 and 14, and a large number of youths in at-risk categories. For instance, the 1992 pregnancy rate for girls under 15 living in the District was 30.6 per 1,000, the report shows, almost 10 times the national average of 3.2 per 1,000.
That same year, the juvenile violent crime arrest rate for 10- to 17-year-olds was 1,487 per 100,000 for the District, compared to 483 nationally, the study reported.
Johnny Allem, communications director for D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, said the District does have problems, but the statistics are misleading.
“We are a city that is displaced with state boundaries,” Allem said. Often, he said, other cities’ statistics are combined with their suburbs’, which makes their findings less harsh.
The Carnegie study says families of all socioeconomic backgrounds have problems. But, it says, they are severe in economically depressed neighborhoods where children may not see many opportunities to be successful.
More than 21 percent of children under 18 in the District live in extreme poverty, compared to 8.9 percent nationally. Extreme poverty is defined as income below 50 percent of the poverty level.
The Barry administration wants to decrease the number of at- risk youths, Allem said, but has had a problem taking proactive steps because of a lack of funding.
Former New Jersey Gov. Thomas Kean, one of 27 members of the Carnegie Council, said there has been a national trend of cutting social programs that would help youths.
“There are programs that don’t work and they should be cut,” Kean said. “But don’t take the money and do something non-youth oriented.”
Members of the council, which includes educators, lawyers, government officials and doctors, said the ages 10-14 are when habits form that are pivotal to a child’s future.
Many children grow up depressed because they did not receive nurturing when they were adolescents. About one-third reported having thoughts about suicide, according to the study.
A 16-year-old girl quoted in the study expressed her disillusion about the future in a poem called Land of Diminishing Dreams. She made references to a future filled with drug use and people afraid to walk down the streets.
The study says one-fourth of adolescents ages 10 to 16 surveyed by the council reported being victims of assault or abuse in the previous year.
Twelve- to 15-year-olds had the highest victimization rate of any age group. -30-