Caring for a pretend baby does nothing to prevent teenagers from falling pregnant and it may even make them more likely to have a baby.
The pregnancy prevention programme is so popular that contestants on The Bachelor Australia recently tried it out on a group date – but they may need to be careful now, as it seems the experience may encourage pregnancies.
A robot baby on The Bachelor Australia. Image via Channel Ten.
Students on the education course care for a doll that cries when it needs to be fed, burped, rocked or changed. The infant simulator can then report on mishandling, crying time, the number of changes and general care.
But according to a new Telethon Kids Institute study, the programme designed to reduce teen pregnancies has backfired.
Almost 3,000 students, aged 13-15, were split into two groups and their fertility was tracked until they were 20-years-old.
The girls who were enrolled on the simulated baby programme, and cared for a fake baby at home, had higher rates of pregnancy and abortion.
The study found 8 per cent of students who had cared for a robot baby had at least one birth, compared to 4 per cent of the control group - that did not take part.
Similarly, 9% of girls who took part had an abortion, compared to 6% in the control group.
The baby bots used in the VIP programme. Image supplied.
“Our study shows that the pregnancy prevention programme delivered in Western Australia, which involves an infant simulator, does not reduce the risk of pregnancy in teenage girls," says lead author Dr Sally Brinkman from the University of Western Australia.
"In fact, the risk of pregnancy is actually increased compared to girls who didn’t take part in the intervention.”
The Australian Virtual Infant Parenting (VIP) programme is an adaptation of the US version - RealityWorks - where school students take an infant simulator home for the weekend and also engage in supporting educational materials including a documentary on teen pregnancies.
“Similar programmes are increasingly being offered in schools around the world, and evidence now suggest they do not have the desired long-term effect of reducing teenage pregnancy," Dr Brinkman said.
"These interventions are likely to be an ineffective use of public resources for pregnancy prevention.”
As many as 2000 schools in Australia use the VIP programme and similar programs are used in 89 countries across the world.
It seems the experience of having a fake baby for a weekend may have worked a little too well.
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