A group of high school girls in San Mateo County will be entering a program soon in which they will be paid $10 a week not to become pregnant--again.
As a one-year trial program sponsored by the Planned Parenthood organization, only teenagers who have become pregnant before will be invited to participate.
“We reward young people who do well in school with scholarships. It’s sort of the same thing,” said Cathleen Gentry, an associate director of the San Mateo County chapter of the Planned Parenthood Assn.
Gentry said the novel pay incentive program will be extended only to teen-agers who have become pregnant earlier because studies have shown that young people who have had the experience are 50% more likely to get pregnant again.
She said that payments are also intended to persuade the teen-agers to attend weekly support group meetings regularly. At these sessions, they will discuss decision-making, peer relations and other issues affecting teen-age mothers, Gentry said.
The program is expected to start next month with 10 teen-agers from Redwood High School in Redwood City and from a community learning center in East Palo Alto.
Because Planned Parenthood counselors usually recommend teen-agers maintain abstinence as the best method to avoid pregnancy, Gentry said much of the time will be used to teach the teen-agers how to say no to sex.
“It’s not just about birth control. There are so many issues that result in teen pregnancy,” Gentry said. “It will be run like a club. And you can only be a member if you don’t get pregnant.”
The San Mateo County program is modeled after a pay incentive Planned Parenthood program in Denver that has been in existence since 1985. A Bay Area businessman, who heard about the Colorado program, offered Planned Parenthood $12,000 to start a similar program in San Mateo County.
If the program proves successful, Gentry said the program’s benefactor, who wants to remain anonymous, would like to extend it to other teen-agers in the county and expand it to the greater Bay Area.
Gentry said the Colorado program succeeded in reducing the rate of pregnancy recurrence from 50% to 17%.
But an official at the New York-based Alan Guttmacher Institute, a group that studies population trends, said the program is no more successful than other pregnancy counseling programs that did not use cash incentives.
California has the highest teen-age pregnancy rate in the nation, with 142.7 pregnancies for every thousand teen-agers between the ages of 15 and 19, according to a 1985 population and reproduction report published by UC San Francisco. In San Mateo County, the rate is 26.8 for every thousand teen-agers in the same age group, the same report stated.
The national teen-age pregnancy rate was 111 per 1,000, according to a 1980 report published by the Alan Guttmacher Institute.
The group will not use regular pregnancy tests, but instead will rely on the honor system and the grapevine to ensure that members do not become pregnant. “If someone gets pregnant, the other girls will know,” Gentry said.
Planned Parenthood initially discussed restricting how the teen-agers should spend their money, but later chose to leave it to their discretion.
“We’re trying to build up their decision-making. We’d be contradicting ourselves if we told them how to spend it,” Gentry said.
Times staff writer Allan Parachini contributed to this article.