Economic security: looking beyond income to assets.

Today, the Urban Institute posted more of the answer in their report, The Balance Sheets of Low-Income Households: What We Know About Their Assets and Liabilities.

The report explores the balance sheets of low-income households, and evaluates their assets and debts–a critical piece in building true economic security.  Often, people consider income as a sign of economic security, but income is just money that flows into a household and then right back out.

Assets describe those critical savings and investments that enable an individual or family to build wealth over time and to guard against unknowns like unemployment, illness or disability.

For a recent example of what happens when a family doesn’t have a strong base of assets and then suddenly loses their income, check out one of Will Smith’s most recent films.

Even someone earning $100,000 a year in income, if some of that isn’t being turned into savings and assets, won’t fare well for very long should s/he suddenly be unable to work. 

Just like an illness can brew under the surface, without symptoms for a long while, so too can financial insecurity. 

And yet, according to the report, much of the policy around alleviating poverty focuses on increasing income, and meeting basic consumption needs, but not on savings and building assets.  Asset-building economic policy does not tend to benefit low-income families, the report says, for three primary reasons:

  • First, this population is less likely to own homes, investments, or retirement accounts, where most asset-based policies are targeted.
  • Second, with little or no federal income tax liability, the low-income have little or no tax incentives, or other incentives, for asset accumulation.
  • Third, asset limits in means-tested transfer policies have the potential to discourage saving by the low-income population. In many respects, this population does not have access to the same structures and incentives for asset accumulation.

So, who are these families, and how do their assets and debts balance out?  A few findings from the report:

Low income families:
Assets
:

  • The typical bottom quintile family may own a car valued at $4,500 and hold a checking or savings account valued at $600. 
  • Most families do not own a home, have no retirement account, and have no business equity.
  • Social Security and Medicare, if considered wealth, comprise roughly 90 percent of expected wealth for low-income families.

Debt:

  • The typical bottom quintile family may hold debt valued at $7,000, one-sixth the amount of debt that most third quintile families hold. Bottom quintile family debt is most likely to be credit card debt valued at $1,000, installment loans valued at $5,600, and home-secured debt valued at $37,000.
  • 27 percent of bottom quintile families made debt service payments that exceeded 40 percent of family income. 

The combination of assets and liabilities for bottom quintile families results in median net worth valued at $7,500, nearly one-tenth the net worth of third quintile families.

Single-headed families: 
Assets:

  • The typical single-headed family may own a home worth $120,000, a car valued at $7,600, and hold a checking or savings account valued at $2,000.
  • In total, a typical single-headed family may own assets worth $83,400, or less than one-third of the assets owned by the typical married or cohabiting family.
  • Most singleheaded families do not own any retirement accounts, financial assets beyond their checking or savings account, or any business equity.

Debt:

  • The typical single-headed family may hold debt valued at $24,000, a little more than a quarter of the debt that most married or cohabiting families hold. The reason for the disparity is that, very similar to less-educated families, only 32 percent of single-headed families owe mortgage debt compared with 59 percent of married or cohabiting families.
  • The typical debts owed by a single-headed family, therefore, are most likely to be credit card debt valued at $1,000 or installment loan debt valued at $8,600. 

The combination of assets and liabilities for single families results in median net worth valued at $40,000, or about one-fourth the net worth of married or cohabiting families. The net worth gap by marital status starts out small at younger ages and then widens sharply with age.

Nonwhite or Hispanic families:
Assets:

  • The typical family headed by someone who is a nonwhite or Hispanic owns a vehicle worth $9,800 and a checking or savings account worth $1,500, compared to the typical white non-Hispanic headed family who owns a vehicle worth $15,700 and a checking or savings account worth $5,000.
  • This nonwhite or Hispanic headed family may own a home worth $130,000 or a retirement account worth $16,000.
  • A typical nonwhite or Hispanic headed family holds total assets worth $60,000, or a little more than a quarter of the assets held by a white non-Hispanic headed family ($224,500). While only 49 percent of nonwhite or Hispanic headed families do not own a home, 67 percent have no retirement account and 94 percent have no business equity.

Debts:

  • The typical nonwhite or Hispanic headed family holds debt valued at $30,500, less than half of the debt that most white non-Hispanic families hold, or $69,500.
  • Nonwhite or Hispanic headed family debt is somewhat more likely to be credit card debt valued at $1,600 or installment loan debt valued at $9,600, than mortgage debt.

The combination of assets and liabilities for nonwhite or Hispanic headed families results in median net worth valued at $25,000, less than one-sixth the net worth of white non-Hispanic-headed families.

The report explains the value of looking at these numbers in evaluating financial security–and policies to help build it, particularly among low-income families–saying, "Building assets and avoiding excessive debt can help low-income families insure against unforeseen disruptions, achieve economic independence, and improve socio-economic status."

The key (or the Stepping Stones if one were to be shamefully self-promoting) to true long-term social change then–within individuals, within families, within communities–lies not only in getting families into better, more high paying jobs, but into helping them grow their assets by paying down debt, buying homes and increasing savings and other investments.

Just ask Coach Tate with the Marshall Heights Community Development Organization or check in with Capital Area Asset Builders.  They’re helping women in our area do this every day, and are seeing their self-worth grow right along with their net worth as they achieve their goals and dreams.

Phyllis Caldwell is New at the Top!

2008 is a new year for us all, and particularly for The Women’s Foundation as we head into it with a new leader at the top! 

The Washington Post highlighted Phyllis’ appointment with The Women’s Foundation and her career to date in their New at the Top column on New Year’s Eve.  Check it out here online, or as a PDF here.

In the piece, Phyllis discusses her childhood roots in social action and philanthropy, the transition from the corporate world to that of a small foundation (us!), the five themes she carries with her always, her respect for the importance of risk-taking and her take on how the corporate world, government and the philanthropic sectors must all work together if meaningful social change is to be achieved.

Phyllis says, "It’s very easy in business to talk about earnings growth and shareholder returns; in philanthropy, talking about the mission; and in government, the spending and voter initiatives. It’s much more complex to have the three working together around a common goal. And I think one of the things that motivate many of us in the community development industry is the change that can happen when we have the power of these three working together."

See what else Phyllis has to say, and what everyone is saying about her and The Women’s Foundation right here.

What's the state of (women's) philanthropy in our region?

Washington Grantmakers just released its annual giving report, "Our Region, Our Giving 2007."

I haven’t had a chance to look over the whole report yet, but I did have a chance to steal some stats from their blog.

It seems that investing in the Washington metropolitan region is taking off, even if Newsweek is talking up giving globally this week.

According to the annual giving report, in our area:

  • National foundations have more than tripled their investments in our region, with $1.5 billion today compared to $407 million in 1992;
  • Local foundations are investing 63% of their philanthropic dollars in this region – a significant rise from only 46% fifteen years before; and,
  • The assets of the region’s community foundations have grown from $31.5 million to $412.5 million.

Nothing to shake a stick at.

And just to round it out, here are some figures on how the philanthropic landscape looks in our region when seen through a gender lens–from our 2003 Portrait Project.

  • Women-led foundations oversaw more than $141.2 million in giving in 2001.  However, analysis of 12,000 grants made in 2003 by the top 100 foundations showed that of the $441 million in grants paid, only $30.7 million–or 7%–went to women’s and girls’ programs (a trend still reflected nationally as of 2006)Of those, only about half went to organizations in the region.
  • Only 2.86%of grants made by foundations formed between 1996 and 2003 in the Washington metropolitan area currently with assets of at least $1 million went to women’s and girls’ programs.
  • Women lead 28 percent of the largest foundations established in the region since 1996.
  • Women play a significant role in the management of the top 100 foundations, directly leading 34 of them and serving on the boards of 85 in 2003.

Now, I know you’re wondering…where does Washington Area Women’s Foundation fit into all of this after being around for nearly a decade?

Washington Area Women’s Foundation:

  • is the only donor-supported public foundation in the region that works to improve the lives of low-income women and girls and to increase philanthropy by all women (i.e. 100% of our grantmaking is devoted to improving the lives of women and girls).
  • The Women’s Foundation currently provides more than $1 million annually in grantmaking devoted to women and girls in our region.
  • Since 1998, The Women’s Foundation has provided more than $4.1 million in grants to more than 100 outstanding Grantee Partners throughout our region, all working to change the lives of women and girls.
  • The Women’s Foundation is one of the fastest growing women’s funds in the country.

And that’s after just 10 short years.  Just imagine what we’ll do in the next 10. 

We’re more motivated than ever, particularly given the ever-increasing importance of focusing grantmaking, strategy, discussion and advocacy on the needs of our region’s women and girls. 

Because women and girls are worth way more than just 8%.  So, to make up the difference, we’re giving them 110% and growing, and changing the lives of everyone involved along the way.

Pressed and stressed? Give up holiday shopping and just give.

I was recently inspired by a Courant article, "Giving, But Not Gifts," about how Ray Dalio, a hedge fund exec whose net worth totals about $4 billion, is spending $2 million on an ad campaign to persuade Americans to stop shopping for each other over the holidays, and instead to honor each other with gifts to charity.

"We’re pressed, we’re stressed, and our money is wasted," the ad reads. "Let’s redefine Christmas. By putting more Thanksgiving in it."

Dalio will have an uphill battle to change Americans $100 billion holiday shopping habit, the article says, but he feels that carving out even a few gifts a year will gradually lead to a multiplier effect.

Dalio also makes the point that it’s easier to give than to do all that shopping to find the perfect gift–a hard point to argue.

An inspiring idea.  So I thought I’d check around here at The Women’s Foundation to see if this trend has a foothold among our staff, who are surrounded daily with the notion of giving, philanthropy and its power to change lives and communities.

I randomly asked staff  to report on how they or their families incorporate giving into the holiday season, and got some very creative ideas for ways to create traditions that don’t revolve around consumerism so much as compassion-ism.

Opa reported that in her family everyone takes one of the gifts they receive (before opening it and finding out what it is) and donates it to a battered women’s shelter.

HyeSook, our child care and early education consultant, reported that she’s working hard to instill the idea of giving for her three-and-a-half year old daughter.  She worked with her daughter’s pre-school teacher to develop a gift from the class that would help the children think of less fortunate kids.  HyeSook also takes her daughter with her when she volunteers to do cleaning and projects for local shelters.  "I think modeling is one of the most powerful teaching strategies," she says.

As for me, my sister works for an international organization that supports children and families in developing nations through monthly sponsorship.  A few years ago, my sister gave a sponsorship of a child to my mother, who now, instead of asking for gifts for herself, asks for contributions to projects she’s supporting to make improvements on the child’s home and support sustainable business or employment opportunities for her parents.

And that’s the word on some of the giving that goes on by a random sampling of staff of The Women’s Foundation. 

How do you and your family incorporate giving into the holiday season?  Drop us a line and let us know.  This blog will be on hiatus until later next week while we’ll be out partaking of the festivities, so it’ll be great to send everyone off on a note of inspiring ideas and creative compassion. 

In any case, we wish you an inspiring, joyful holiday season!

Still looking for that perfect holiday gift?  Know someone who would love to lend her name to work that’s changing the lives of woman and girls in the Washington region?  We make it easy.

Wal-mart markets child trafficking?

Okay, this is almost too much.

Evidently, you can go into a Wal-Mart store and purchase underwear for a pre-teen girl that says, "Who needs credit cards…," insinuating that a girls’ greatest hope for financial security and independence is between her legs.  Don’t believe me?  Go look at the picture.

Sorry to be crass, but seriously?

This is one of those things that is so offensive on so many levels that I’m going to have to narrow it down to just one: that it seems to me that this product is a direct endorsement of the concept of human trafficking.

Which I have been educated about as a local issue largely due to some of the amazing Grantee Partners we work with, including Ayuda, the Polaris Project and, more recently, FAIR Fund, a new Grantee Partner and 2007 Leadership Awardee.

As a Leadership Awards volunteer, I conducted a site visit of FAIR Fund, where I found myself shocked to learn of the pervasive way that human, and child trafficking, is affecting our local community and our nation–and particularly when it consists of trafficking for sexual purposes, the most prevalent type.  Before, I had naively thought that this was primarily an international issue.  (Not that that made it okay.)

The FAIR Fund offers these statistics:

  • 70% of all victims of trafficking are trafficked for sexual purposes;
  • 80% of all victims are women;
  • 50% of all victims are youth and children;
  • 9.5 billion dollars have been made off the bodies of young girls and women in sex trafficking;
  • 200,000 to 350,000 American girls and boys are at risk of being exploited for sexual purposes;
  • 20,000 individuals are trafficked INTO the United States each year;
  • In the United States, ANY minor child involved in commercial sexual exploitation is considered a victim of human trafficking.

So, to me, by that definition, wherein any minor child–of an age where they may get their underwear from the junior department at Wal-mart–who is coerced into or paid for sex is considered a victim of human trafficking.

Why then would Wal-mart encourage such behavior by selling a product such as this?  What sort of message does this send to our young women, or to the boys and men who are encouraged by seeing something like this to view young women–or women in general–as objects, as commodities, as beings who have only their sexuality to use as a vehicle to financial independence and security?

Why would Wal-mart sell a product that blatantly endorses a concept that is not only insulting, offensive, misleading and dangerous, but also illegal?  The Polaris Project has a great overview of the legalities.

I guess their response would have to be, "Because it sells."  How a propos.

My initial exposure to human trafficking in terms of sexual exploitation of minor women came when I lived in Africa, where, sadly, it was a fairly common practice that young girls had "sugar daddies."  Men they would provide sexual services to in order to get the money for food, clothes, to get their hair done, and, most sadly, to pay their school fees. 

Either because their parents couldn’t afford to, or because they didn’t deem their daughter worth educating.  (Education is an investment after all, and there’s less return on a girl’s education than a boy’s because girls are generally just going to become part of her husband’s family, and not a breadwinner for her own parents.) 

But, for girls who were driven and wanted an education but didn’t have the financial resources, sometimes they would subject themselves to sexual exploitation in order to get it.  So that maybe, one day, they could hold a job–and wouldn’t need to depend on the favor of a man to support them.

In a culture of poverty, particularly where young women are not valued or seen as worth educating, the commonly accepted societal message is that being a woman, and using your sexuality, is the only means to economic security and survival.

This aspect of living in Africa–hearing the stories of my female students, friends and colleagues as they recounted their experiences and feelings of constantly being told covertly and overtly that their value lied in their beauty, their sexuality, their womanhood only in so far as it pleased a man–remains one of the most disturbing aspects of my experience and memories.

So thanks Wal-Mart, for bringing these attitudes home and for marketing them–just like you’re implying we should be marketing our young women.

To make your voice heard by writing Wal-Mart and letting them know how you feel about them carrying this product: customer service or corporate.

Announcing the 2007 Leadership Awardees!

But first, a little FAQ about the Leadership Awards!

What are the Leadership Awards?
In 1998, The Women’s Foundation made $17,500 in grants, in the form of Leadership Awards, to five organizations in our region. The first five Grantee Partners of The Women’s Foundation each received $3,500.

In 2007, only nine years later, the Leadership Awards Program gave $80,000 in awards to eight organizations, each receiving $10,000 to recognize their work focused on the health and safety of women and girls.

The idea behind the Leadership Awards is to recognize and bolster organizations doing amazing work–and getting results–for women and girls. A Leadership Award serves as a vehicle to promote their work and helps them leverage additional support.

In many ways, the Leadership Awards Program represents the spirit of The Women’s Foundation: to foster innovative, effective organizations that truly change the lives of women and girls, and to help deepen the impact of their work.

Who selects the awardees?
The awardees are selected by members of our community. A dedicated committee of volunteers vets applications, conducts phone interviews and site visits and recommends a panel of organizations for approval by the board of directors. The volunteer committee is open to any donor to The Women’s Foundation at any level–making it a public, citizen-based grantmaking process reflecting the diverse interests and experience of people throughout our region.

Jeanie Lee, a 2007 Leadership Awards volunteer, says, "It was an enormous learning experience, and I really appreciated having the opportunity of getting to know our community organizations that are doing good work."

Want to become a Leadership Awards volunteer?  Contact me and I’ll tell you all about it!

What do awardees do with the money?
The awards are not grants in the traditional sense. They are not funded to conduct specific work outlined in a proposal. Instead, a Leadership Award is an acknowledgment of work already accomplished and allows the organization to continue to build on those achievements. It says, "Thank you for the excellent work you are doing for the women and girls of our region. We support you in your efforts and we’re encouraging others to do the same."

Do Leadership Awards really make a difference?
As a result of this support, many organizations in our region have been transformed.

Deborah Avens of Virtuous Enterprises, Inc. cites The Women’s Foundation–and receiving a Leadership Award–as having been the cheerleader that inspired her to expand her work with women in Prince George’s County.

In 2002, a Leadership Award was granted to Tahirih Justice Center, and this year, their accomplishments were acknowledged with a Washington Post Award for Excellence in Nonprofit Management.

Consulting the list of past Leadership Awards recipients reveals many more organizations in our region that have grown and expanded their impact–in many cases due largely to that first recognition from The Women’s Foundation through a Leadership Award.

Who are the 2007 Leadership Awardees?
This year, The Women’s Foundation is proud to announce the eight 2007 Leadership Awardees, which represent excellence, innovation and impact on behalf of women and girls in the area of health and safety.

Congratulations to the 2007 Leadership Awardees, and many thanks to every member of our community for supporting The Women’s Foundation and making it possible for us to continue to inspire and cultivate leadership on behalf of women and girls in our region.

Learn more about these outstanding organizations.

Stay tuned for a public, online vote in the new year to give an additional $5,000 award to one of these awardees!

To learn about the Leadership Awards Program, click here, or contact me for more information on how to become a volunteer and get involved.  (It’s fun!) 

Ayuda partners with The Women's Foundation to shatter myths about domestic violence.

Ayuda, a Grantee Partner, featured The Women’s Foundation’s support of Ayuda’s work with immigrant women facing domestic violence in their most recent issue of Ayuda Today.

The report that emerged, Shattering the Myths: Barriers Facing Immigrant Victims of Domestic Violence, was funded by The Women’s Foundation’s Open Door Capacity Fund in 2006 to provide research that Ayuda could use to deepen the impact of its work with immigrant women vulnerable to domestic violence.

View the newsletter article to learn more about the report’s key findings.

Learn more about Ayuda’s work with women affected by domestic violence.

Can a small gift buy serious social change?

Remember last year when we talked a bit about the virtues of small donors and feelings of season-induced smallnessDollar Philanthropy even did a post on how cool it was that here at The Women’s Foundation we have programs that enable donors at any level to participate in grantmaking processes.

Well, this holiday season is also bringing on a lot of similar discussion, with bloggers wide and far discussing the big donor vs. small donor question.  In sum:

Dollar Philanthropy has an inspiring recent post on the virtue of small gifts and "dollar philanthropists."

The Chronicle of Philanthropy‘s Give and Take provides a good overview of the discussion taking place between between Don’t Tell the Donor (low-dollar donors matter by showing a broad-based endorsement for an organization’s mission) and The Raiser’s Razor, who asks, "Would you rather have one $100,000 donor or 2,000 $50 donors?" 

Gift Hub chimes in in agreement that peer to peer philanthropy with many smaller donors is a power to the people approach that gives organizations and causes a true mandate.

And I guess I find myself somewhere in between.  Because if there is anything I’ve learned at The Women’s Foundation–where philanthropic education, leadership and engagement are taken very seriously–it’s that the size of the gift isn’t nearly as important as your true understanding of how you can make your gifts–whether they be monetary, in time or services–really count towards meaningful social change.

Sort of as this paragraph states, from a post on Tactical Philanthropy called "Philanthropy is not just a word."  Wendy Bay Lewis attempts to define philanthropy, and examines two articles about "big time" philanthropists, noting that, "The emphasis on their monetary donations seems simplistic. True, they are philanthropists. But more than that…they want to remedy deep educational and economic inequities that nag at their social consciences. I would call them social justice philanthropists."

She goes on to say, "Philanthropy is not one size fits all. Phrases like ‘venture philanthropy’ and ‘engaged philanthropy’ have come into usage to describe strategies where donors take an active role in the organizations they fund. Perhaps ‘social justice philanthropist’ might be used to describe donors, whether traditional or engaged, whose focus is economic, social, and environmental justice. Isn’t philanthropy a tool for social change?" 

Lewis begins her piece by saying, "I realize that words like philanthropy have an emotional power that exceeds what a simple definition can convey." 

I would agree with this statement and with her vision of a philanthropy that sees beyond the monetary aspect of a gift to what really drives it, to the forces of conscience and choice that motivate a gift.

Is it more worthwhile for instance to focus on the magnitude of Oprah’s investment in a school in South Africa, or to really discuss and learn from the reasons and choices that drove that gift?  And to test them against the eventual outcome of her investment?

The latter seems more useful to me, perhaps because a person’s values and the commitment they have to specific issues and strategies are likely to deepen and expand throughout a lifetime, while the amount of available resources a person has available may fluctuate with far more uncertainty.

And if the idea is social change–both of the problem, as well as the philanthropist (which is a natural offset of becoming truly engaged with one’s giving in a "beyond the check" fashion), then a lifelong, concentrated focus on a particular issue or strategy–incorporating learning every step of the way–is likely to have the best shot in the long run.

I think this is the sort of thing Julie Jensen described about her giving–that the real satisfaction in making the gift, and in really seeing an impact, was in truly diving in to an issue and investing in it for the long haul.  Julie writes, "This gift went far beyond writing a check. It was a way of seizing my own power, of taking responsibility for a significant decision and investment, and it required me to jump in, to learn, to become an incremental part of the success of this initiative."

Yes, Julie had a million to invest, but my sense is that over a lifetime, investing any amount with a clear sense of purpose in finding the best organizations, the best strategies, the best programs to address a specific problem or issue would lead to a very similar outcome for the philanthropist and is likely to dramatically increase the impact of the gifts.

Whether they’re gifts of $10 or $10 million.

News roundup: The Women's Foundation's new president!

The media has been abuzz with talk of Phyllis Caldwell and her appointment as president of The Women’s Foundation. 

To read more about Phyllis, her goals for The Women’s Foundation and her background, check out these recent news articles and blogs:

D.C. Examiner: "Three Minute Interview: Phyllis Caldwell"  (Live link)  (PDF)

Washington Business Journal: "Bank of America exec heads to nonprofit"

Washington Post Regional Briefing: "Women’s Foundation Names Chief"

Washington Grantmakers Daily: "Washington Area Women’s Foundation announces new president"

Philanthropy News Digest: "People in the News (12/02/07): Appointments and Promotions"

Washington Times: "Movers and Shakers"

News on Women: "Phyllis Caldwell Caldwell Made President of The Washington Women’s Foundation"

Congrats Phyllis!  We’re all looking forward to working with you!

Do rising teen birth rates show need to abstain from abstinence-only education?

Remember a few weeks ago when we talked about how great it was that our regional teenage pregnancy rates were down

And how everyone was so hopeful that this reflected a national trend?

Oops.

Seems that the rates here in our region may be more the exception that the rule.  The New York Times reports today that scholars were shocked to learn that national teenage birth rates as of 2006 actually rose for the first time since 1991.

Oops again.

The one spot of good news is that birth rates did drop for girls under 14; the increase was noted among teenage girls aged 15-17.

If that can be considered good news.

The largest increases came among black teenagers, but there were also increases among whites, Hispanics and American Indians. Only birth rates among Asian teenagers dropped.  All pointing the way again to the importance of developing culturally relevant strategies to address the factors that lead to teen pregnancy.

The news today is fueling discussion and debate over the Bush Administration’s abstinence-only education policies, which garner $176 million in funding annually. 

According to the article, "A landmark study recently failed to demonstrate that they have any effect on delaying sexual activity among teenagers, and some studies suggest that they may actually increase pregnancy rates."  The article goes on to explain that this could be because abstinence-only education scares young people away from birth control by asserting that it isn’t effective.

In the article, Robert Rector, a senior researcher with The Heritage Foundation, says that such logic is "stupid," arguing that, "Most young women who became pregnant were highly educated about contraceptives but wanted to have babies."

Other theories and perspectives on the data reflected in the article are:

  • Hillary Clinton stated that rates of teenage pregnancy declined during the Clinton Administration due to a focus on family planning.
  • Dr. John Santelli, chairman of the department of population and family health at Columbia University, said that rates declined in the 1990s due to sex rates dropping as a result of fears about AIDS.
  • Kristin A. Moore, a senior scholar at Child Trends, a nonprofit children’s research organization, said the increase in the teenage birth rate was particularly alarming because even the 2005 rate was far higher than that in other industrialized countries.

Whatever the various debates around what is causing the rise in teen birth rates, what is clear is that an effective strategy to combat the trend must be found due to the great impact having a child so young has on young women–for the duration of their lives. 

As the Washington Post article about local rates explained, "Adolescent mothers frequently compromise not only their health but also their future, dropping out of school and struggling financially. Their babies are at greater risk for a host of problems, including low birth weight and abuse, neglect and poor academic performance."

We owe it to girls and women to devote our resources and investments to strategies that are proven to work on their behalf and to pave the way to the brightest futures possible.

And perhaps a few helpful lessons can be drawn from the efforts here in our region, which are showing declines in birth rates.  Strategies used here that are cited by the Washington Post article are:

  • Hosting discussion groups to teach parents how to talk to their kids about love, sex and relationships.
  • Calvert County makes contraception accessible to girls at its family planning clinics for no charge and, except in rare cases, no questions. The approach might explain why the teen birthrate there fell 46 percent by 2005.
  • At the Washington Hospital Center, staff members dispense education, contraception and encompassing support.

Finally, the article states, "Most studies give more credit to teens’ greater use of condoms and other protection and the wider array of options available to them, including such long-acting choices as the birth control patch."

And wherever the research shows, is where I believe it makes sense for the dollars and efforts to go.  Women and girls are worth demanding meaningful results.