This study examines key characteristics and external factors that influence health promotion and disease (HPD) programs serving Latina and Latino (L/L) youth. It also explores challenges associated with program development, sustainability, and the relative capacity to respond to historical and emergent problems experienced by this population.
California is experiencing an increase in risk behaviors among L/L youth at a time when there are significant pressures to limit public sector funding for health and social programs. L/L youth are increasing more rapidly than any other ethnic youth cohort; by the year 2000 they will comprise 39% of all California youth. This rapid population growth is accompanied by an increase in poverty and deterioration in L/L quality of life. By 1991, Latinas under 20 were twice as likely as non-Latina Whites to commence childbearing, and Latinas comprised 56.6% of all unmarried mothers under 20 in California; a 10% increase since 1998. A California studying 1994 indicated that L/L youth have the highest overall licit and illicit drug use rates, and these rates had increased from a previous survey conducted in 1991. Recent California juvenile arrest statistics also showed Latinos constitute the highest proposition of felony, misdemeanor, and status offenses. Second generation L/L adolescents are especially at high risk for early pregnancies, drug use, and committing juvenile offenses.
This study was motivated by the apparent urgency represented by these trends, and the need to enhance the capacity of our urban and rural communities to foster healthy lifestyles among L/L youth; thereby increasing the likelihood that they will become substantive contributors to the commonweal. It was also motivated by an awareness of chronic problems faced by public institutions and community-based programs that serve these youth. These problems range from a lack of continuity in funding patterns and program objectives to an inability to involve community residents, develop substantive inter-sectoral linkages, and carry out necessary institutional reforms.
Recommendations include the allocation of targeted funds and provisions of technical assistance to enhance the cultural content, expand leadership development components, and strengthen the collaborative capacity of existing programs; enhancement of linkages to private sector resources; and the enhancement of statewide capacity to develop and monitor youth HPD programs and conduct relevant policy research.