El Camino, a goal-setting teen pregnancy prevention program, finds promising results

Although the teen birth rate in the United States has declined dramatically in recent decades, it is still considerably higher than in other developed nations. This is especially true for Latinos, who have a teen birth rate twice as high as the rate for white teens. But in spite of higher rates among Latinos, a 2013 Child Trends report found few teen pregnancy prevention programs for Latino youth.

Child Trends conducted research to better understand high Latino teen birth rates and identify promising approaches to teen pregnancy prevention among Latinos. This research found that—contrary to some stereotypes—most Hispanic teens do not want to become pregnant during their teens. Instead, these teens and their parents value education and believe that having a child would interfere with their education. Based on findings from this study, we developed and implemented El Camino, a goal-setting teen pregnancy prevention curriculum for high school students that builds on the students’ own motivation to attain life goals. El Camino, which translates to “the road,” is designed to help teens personally identify their goals and develop their own “camino” to pursue them.

El Camino promises to be an effective approach because it is research-based, active, engaging, and youth-focused. Without lectures or preaching, it aims to reduce adolescent pregnancy, increase educational attainment, and ultimately reduce poverty. Indeed, El Camino has led many students to explicitly connect delayed parenthood with achievement of their goals.

The curriculum is divided into three sections, or arcs.

  • Arc 1: Goal Setting. The first section uses the imagery of a road to connect long-term goals with steps teens can take to achieve these goals. Students themselves recognize the need to complete their education and delay pregnancy.
  • Arc 2: Sexual and Reproductive Health. The second section works to change knowledge, attitudes, self-efficacy, and behaviors regarding reproductive biology, and teaches effective methods of contraception—all necessary for youth to protect and reach their goals.
  • Arc 3: Healthy Relationships. The third section focuses on developing assertive communication skills so that youth can protect their progress toward their goals, accurately and effectively communicate their limits with partners, and enjoy healthy relationships.

Additionally, El Camino strives, throughout the curriculum, to engage the parents of teen participants to obtain their support for education and delayed family formation.

Participating teens read a series of novelas about teens in risky situations. The stories capture the students’ interest and help them think through issues around consent, healthy relationships, and reproductive health. They also engage emotions, not just cognitive functions. For example, one novela fosters discussions about how an adolescent should handle an aggressive sexual advance.

Because teens are peer-oriented, we designed group activities that encourage students to identify viewpoints and discuss why they feel the way they do. For example, if the facilitator reads, “Getting a good education and job is more important for guys than for girls,” students walk toward signs at opposite sides of the classroom that read “Agree” or “Disagree.” These activities give students a chance to listen to their classmates, discuss their views, and change each other’s minds.

Early data from our pilot test across sites suggest that this exciting new program is effective in increasing students’ confidence related to consent and communication about sex. In addition, 90 percent of students reported that participating in the El Camino program made them either less likely to have sex, more likely to use contraception, or more likely to use a condom.

Child Trends is ready to scale up El Camino with new schools and classrooms, and we plan to make the curriculum available online and train interested partners. We are also planning and seeking funding for a randomized controlled trial to test the impact of El Camino on reducing early and unprotected sex and increasing educational engagement and high school completion.

Additional information about El Camino

Child Trends has pilot tested El Camino in 16 classrooms across six locations (Washington, DC; East Chicago, IN; Tacoma, WA; Baltimore, MD; Los Angeles, CA; and Philadelphia, PA), with over 300 students. We have worked with partner schools and organizations to implement the curriculum with diverse groups of students in both English and Spanish; during and after school; and with classroom teachers, AmeriCorps volunteers, and Communities in Schools staff.

Funding for this research came from the JPB Foundation.