IDPH 125th


To focus on the severity and complexity of the teen pregnancy problem, Parents Too Soon was launched in 1983 as a unique collaborative effort among the departments of Public Health, Public Aid, and Children and Family Services. The coordinator of the program was housed at the Department of Public Health and reported to the three agency directors.

This multifaceted initiative, mandated by Gov. James R. Thompson, made Illinois the first state in the nation to institute a statewide program dealing with the issues of teenage pregnancy, adolescent childbearing and teen parenting. It was designed to reduce teenage pregnancy and to mitigate its negative consequences, including health risks to mothers and infants, high rates of infant mortality, economic dependancy and interrupted education. The program also was designed to help teens meet the responsibilities of being parents.

The problem was not that there were too few organizations dealing with teen pregnancy, but rather than many organizations were dealing with parts of the problem. The resultant patchwork of services and policies left cracks through which all too many teen parents and their children slipped. Parents Too Soon’s purpose was to bridge those gaps.

Funding for Parents Too Soon flowed through the three lead agencies, but it coordinated the teen pregnancy efforts of seven other state agencies – Commerce and Community Affairs, Alcoholism and Substance Abuse, Mental Health and Developmental Disabilities, Employment Security, the State Board of Education, the Governor’s Planning Council on Developmental Disabilities and the University of Illinois’ Division of Services for Crippled Children.

Local, community-based service groups were the focus and heart of Parents Too Soon. These local groups, which eventually grew to 125, included local health departments, Catholic Charities and Lutheran Social Services, YWCAs, family planning agencies, hospitals, mental health organizations, community action agencies, child welfare agencies, settlement houses, family support agencies and schools.

Three sites were initially selected for model “Parents Too Soon” projects: Winnebago County, the city of Chicago and the southern seven counties of Illinois. The program addressed the needs of both males and females between the ages of 10 and 19. Participants were teen parents, pregnant girls or teens at risk of becoming parents.

Response to Parents Too Soon was positive and each year the program continued to expand until it was eventually available to every teen in the state.

One of the most visible aspects of Parents Too Soon was a statewide public awareness effort that included television and radio public service advertisements, an annual teen song writing contest, a teen pregnancy hotline, billboards and teen leadership conferences urging teens to stop and think about the consequences of pregnancy.

In the first three years of Parents Too Soon, teenage births fell 12 percent to 22,043. In addition, teens who did give birth had babies who were healthier, more verbal and more curious than the children of nonparticipants with similar backgrounds. More teens with babies were able to complete education and training programs that allowed them to find jobs and end dependancy on welfare.

The Parents Too Soon program was one of 10 winners in 1987 of the prestigious “Innovations In State and Local Government” award from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. The award included a grant of $100,000 that was used to further the initiative.

During the administration of Gov. Jim Edgar, which began in 1991, the Parents Too Soon program was repackaged with other teen health efforts into “Adolescent Health” and was located in the Department’s Division of Family Health. Funds were made available to school districts, local health departments and other community agencies for innovative adolescent health promotion projects. The projects were tailored for junior and senior high school students and covered such topics as self-concept, sexuality education, developmental crises and/or peer relationships.

As part of Edgar’s reorganization of the state’s human services programs, in 1997 Adolescent Health activities, as well as other original components of Parents Too Soon operated by the departments of Children and Family Services and Public Aid, were transferred to the newly-created Illinois Department of Human Services.

The reductions in teen pregnancies that began with Parents Too Soon have continued. In 2001, the percentage of births to teens fell for the seventh straight year and reached the lowest level since birth statistics were first gathered by age in 1959. The number of babies born to teenagers in 2001 was 20,092 or 10.9 percent of all births in the state.

... Years Ago in Public Health

A Timeline of the Illinois Department of Public Health

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