Ro­bot baby pro­gram not so ef­fec­tive

Pilbara News - - News - Cathy O'Leary

WA school­girls given “vir­tual ba­bies” in a bid to re­duce teen preg­nancy are more likely to get preg­nant, a study has found.

The sur­prise find­ings from the Telethon Kids In­sti­tute re­search, the big­gest of its kind in the world, show the pop­u­lar health ed­u­ca­tion pro­gram has “un­ex­pected con­se­quences”.

The pro­gram uses life­like dolls that cry and have to be fed and changed night and day.

It is de­signed to show teenage girls the re­al­ity of be­ing a par­ent.

Re­searchers tracked al­most 3000 school­girls aged 13-15, with half given ro­bot ba­bies to care for over sev­eral days.

The re­sults, pub­lished in The Lancet, found 17 per cent of girls given the dolls be­came preg­nant by the age of 20, com­pared with 11 per cent of those who had stan­dard health ed­u­ca­tion.

More of the girls who took part in the sim­u­la­tion pro­gram and be­came preg­nant kept their ba­bies.

Lead in­ves­ti­ga­tor Sally Brinkman said the re­sults showed the im­por­tance of sci­en­tif­i­cally eval­u­at­ing ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams for their ef­fec­tive­ness.

“The vir­tual in­fant par­ent­ing pro­gram is used across Aus­tralia and the world be­cause it is thought to re­duce the rates of teen preg­nancy,” she said.

“This is the largest study of its kind and high­lights that even the most well-in­ten­tioned pro­grams can have un­ex­pected con­se­quences.”

Ro­bot ba­bies not only failed to re­duce teen preg­nancy, they could in fact have in­creased the risk.

“Aus­tralia has the sixth high­est teen preg­nancy rate out of 21 OECD coun­tries and this study will help pol­icy-mak­ers bet­ter tackle the is­sue,” Dr Brinkman said.

Health­way and Lot­tery­west funded the study.

Re­searchers said some stud­ies had sug­gested girls who found it dif­fi­cult to care for the vir­tual ba­bies tended to be­lieve car­ing for their own baby would be eas­ier.

Other girls at risk of be­com­ing teenage moth­ers might en­joy the at­ten­tion they re­ceived with a ro­bot baby, re­in­forc­ing their de­sire to have a baby, it was sug­gested.

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