“We Can Do More” Initiative

Expanding a comprehensive, community-based approach to reducing teen pregnancy and promoting healthy relationships.

“We Can Do More” Initiative

We support the expansion of initiatives shown to enhance access to healthcare for all Houstonians.

Adolescent pregnancy has been shown to negatively influence educational attainment, economic security and child well-being. This issue holds particular significance for our area: the teen birth rate in Harris County is 55.7 births per 1,000 females aged 15-19, compared with the U.S. median rate of 42.1 births per 1,000.

In 2012, as part of our focus on providing access to healthcare for all Houstonians, Houston Endowment awarded a $6 million grant to the University of Texas School of Public Health (UTSPH) toward reduction of teen pregnancy in the Sunnyside neighborhood of Houston. The We Can Do More initiative, led by UTSPH Senior Associate Dean Dr. Susan Tortolero Emery, launched in 2012 as a comprehensive, community-based approach to reducing teen pregnancy and promoting healthy relationships.

We Can Do More focused on the feeder patterns for Worthing and Sterling high schools, where rates of teen pregnancy were more than three times the national average. UTSPH’s multi-layered approach involved engaging a number of different stakeholders to improve education and communication about sexual health: community members, teachers and other youth-serving professionals working in and around schools, health care providers, faith communities and the youth themselves. In addition, the initiative included integrating clinical services provided by Baylor Teen Health Clinic within each high school, ensuring “youth-friendly” reproductive health services.

UTSPH documented a reduction in sexual risk-taking behaviors among local youth and a substantial 20 percent decrease in adolescent pregnancy rates over a three-year period within the schools.

In 2016, Houston Endowment granted UTSPH an additional $3 million to replicate the We Can Do More initiative in five more Houston communities with high teen pregnancy rates. Dr. Tortolero Emery and her team forged strong partnerships in Sunnyside and were responsive to changing circumstances over the three-year course of the initiative. Establishing deep stakeholder engagement and trust will remain critical as the effort expands.

While replication of an initiative is never simple or completely predictable and there are risks inherent to community change efforts, UTSPH’s knowledge, collaboration skills and flexibility provide a strong foundation to build upon this work in new communities.