Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy

Evaluation of a Longitudinal Six-Site Pilot Study of a Mentoring Program for Latina Girls: Results and Recommendations

Academic journal article Harvard Journal of Hispanic Policy

Evaluation of a Longitudinal Six-Site Pilot Study of a Mentoring Program for Latina Girls: Results and Recommendations

Article excerpt

Introduction

The United States has experienced major demographic changes among the Hispanic population in the past three decades. Latinos currently make up a significant portion of the U.S. population, especially among individuals under the age of eighteen years, with the percentage projected to grow even larger in the future. By the year 2020, more than one in five children will be of Hispanic origin. Currently, the number of Hispanic children under age eighteen is 19.5 million, which represents 34.4 percent of the total Latino population and 20.8 percent of the total population. Latinas under eighteen represent 16.9 percent (5.1 million) of the total Hispanic population and are the largest minority group of girls (COSSMHO 1999).

Adolescence is a time of physical, psychological, and social change. It is often a period during which adolescents experiment in the quest toward finding their identity in young adulthood. For many adolescents this can be an exciting time, yet for many others it is a time in which they may be led to engage in high-risk behaviors with serious long-term consequences. Adolescence has also been noted as a more difficult experience for girls than for boys (COSSMHO 1999).

Four serious threats to health and education have been identified among female teenagers in the United States: pregnancy, depression, substance abuse, and delinquency (Grunbaum et al. 2004). Because of the individual and social costs associated with these threats, it is imperative to create environments to help these young females feel safe and empowered to make better decisions. This is especially the case for Latina female adolescents.

Teen Pregnancy

Teen pregnancy is a major problem among all female adolescents; however, the issue is particularly pronounced among Latinas, who have the highest teenage pregnancy rate when compared to other ethnic groups. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, there has been a steady decline in teenage birth rates from 1990 to 2004. However, birth rates for Hispanic teenagers continue to be higher when compared with other population groups. In 2004, birthrates for every one thousand females ages fifteen to nineteen were 82.6 for Hispanics, 62.7 for non-Hispanic Blacks, and 26.8 for non-Hispanic Whites (Hamilton 2004).

The importance of focusing on the health of Latina youth is highlighted in the recommendations from a recent comprehensive report entitled The State of Hispanic Girls (COSSMHO 1999). In addition, according to a report entitled Voices of California: A Multicultural Perspective on Teen Pregnancy (Get Real 2002), efforts at preventing teenage pregnancy should not only consider a health perspective, but also culture and community. Moreover, prevention programs will need to consider the influence of culture, especially its role in how parents, community leaders, and teens deal with information about adolescent pregnancy.

Health Risk Behaviors

Statistics for Latinas reveal a disproportionate share of substance use, depression, suicidal ideation, and high-risk sexual behaviors. According to the 2003 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) study of 15,214 high school students across the country, Hispanic girls reported the highest percentages of lifetime alcohol use, current marijuana use, lifetime cocaine use, current cocaine use, lifetime illegal injection drug use, lifetime inhalant use, current inhalant use, lifetime heroine use, and lifetime methamphetamine use compared to White and Black girls (Grunbaum et al. 2004, 21). A separate study of 6,748 adolescents, showed that Whites and Latinas reported higher levels of risky behaviors (smoking, drinking, and using illegal drugs) than Black and Asian girls (Schoen et al. 1997).

The same study by Schoen et al. (1997) reported that mental health is another area in which young Latinas are suffering. They found that 44.9 percent of the Latinas reported "feeling so sad or hopeless almost every day for two weeks or more that they stopped doing some usual activities" in comparison to White (33. …

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