The State of the Union in Teen Pregnancy Prevention

Shelby Emmett

Yesterday, President Obama delivered his State of the Union address. The purpose of the address is to inform Congress and the American people about the current state of our nation. The field of teen pregnancy prevention has seen many changes in the last few years. From creations of new departments and new programs to the elimination of successful programs and severe budget cuts, our field has experienced it all in a short period of time. So, what is the current state of teen pregnancy prevention? Read below to see a quick review of the federal landscape.

Obama Administration’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs

The Pregnancy Assistance Fund (PAF) is a 10-year, $250 million competitive grant program created in 2010 designed to help pregnant and parenting teens and women complete their education and gain access to health care, child care, family housing, and other critical support.

The Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) was also created in 2010 and is currently funded as mandatory spending under the Affordable Care Act. PREP provides $75 million annually in mandatory funds for FY 2010-2014 for evidence-based programs to educate adolescents on both abstinence and contraception to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections, and on other adulthood preparation topics such as healthy relationships and communication with parents.

National Sexuality Education Standards Released

In January 2012, national sexuality education standards were published by Advocates for Youth, Answer, and SIECUS to help states and school districts enact and implement sound evidence-based programs proven to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. These standards address the unique needs of marginalized groups including racial minorities and LBGTQ youth. This is a great step to help collective better data and connect to states and school districts that may need assistance implementing these standards to fit their unique circumstances. The goal of creating these standards was “to create a national dialogue about the future of sex education and to promote the institutionalization of comprehensive sexuality education in public schools.”

The Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act

The Supreme Court announced in fall 2011 that it would hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act and render its decision before the 2012 election. At issue is the individual mandate which requires every legal U.S citizen to purchase insurance from a private entity. Currently, PREP and PAF are funded under the ACA. If the law is found unconstitutional, funding for these programs automatically cuts off, as the law will be void.

The Federal Deficit

The battle in Congress to cut our nation’s deficit has lead to policymakers on both sides of the aisle eliminating domestic programs even though these programs only make up about 12% of the federal budget. In 2011, Healthy Teen Network fought vigorously to maintain funding for Title X, Title V, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Division of Adolescent and School Health (DASH), and multiple other programs designed to support young families. Unfortunately, many of these programs have been reduced, and the Adolescent Family Life program was completely defunded. Abstinence-only programs, though, received an increase in federal funding.

Changes in Young Women’s Behavior in Reproductive Health

A new study published in the American Journal of Public Health revealed fewer U.S. women ages 15 to 24 are receiving reproductive healthcare. Almost 60% of young women received reproductive healthcare within the last year, but use has fallen by eight percent between the two time periods. The declines were seen across all demographic and socioeconomic groups. Overall, however, economically disadvantaged women are the least likely to get care.


What do you think about the current state of affairs in teen pregnancy prevention on the national level? Share your thoughts in our comment section!

Shelby Emmett, JD is the Policy and Legal Coordinator at Healthy Teen Network.

Teens Delivering Important Messages, Peer to Peer

Teens P.A.C.T. Peer Leaders

Research supports peer education: messages have a higher likelihood of getting through—and changing attitudes and behaviors—when recipients believe that the messengers are similar to themselves. This phenomenon is especially prevalent among teens. Despite the fact that this is common knowledge among youth providers, it’s not often that teens are provided with the platform to create and deliver important messages to their peers.

At Community Healthcare Network’s Teens P.A.C.T. (Positive Actions and Choices for Teens) program in New York City, we provide teens with the tools to do exactly that. Recently, we released five public service announcements (PSAs) as part of our “More Than Just Sex” campaign, a unique initiative that addresses a range of sexual health issues. The campaign is just one of many initiatives of a broad adolescent pregnancy prevention program.

At Teens P.A.C.T., we employ best practices in youth development to train youth Peer Leaders extensively in comprehensive sexuality education, social and behavioral learning theories, and best practices in public health. Learning is then applied to the development of their PSA to create an effective message. While adult partners provide guidance in project tasks, an important fact to keep in mind is all Teens P.A.C.T. PSAs are created by teens, for teens. Peer Leaders are responsible for completing all components of PSA development including writing the script, casting, pre-production, and production on the day of the shoot. As an ongoing project, more than 20 Peer Leaders produce 10-12 PSA’s each year.

“We worked on the PSA for months before we shot them. A good idea is only half the battle,” said one of the Peer Leaders. “The trainings that we attended really taught us how to deliver important messages to our peers in a powerful way. We knew we wanted to deliver our message about the complex issues teen face every day in a unique way that hadn’t been done before.”

One new PSA in particular, The Importance of Condoms, received a great deal of national attention shortly after its release. While the public response has been overwhelmingly positive, some media outlets focused negative attention on the language used in The Importance of Condoms. The specific language that has been criticized was carefully and purposefully crafted, as the Peer Leaders believed it would allow their message to better resonate with their target audience.

“We wrote scripts using scenarios and language that we knew would be familiar to other teens,” one of the Peer Leaders explained. “We wanted to make sure they were interesting so teens would really listen to our message, so we used humor, sarcasm, and fear to mix it up and make it entertaining.”

As the Project Director of the Teens P.A.C.T. program, I can attest to the dedication and professionalism that was required from the Peer Leaders. This is peer leadership at its best. In addition to creating effective messages and making a difference in their communities, youth participants fostered positive relationships with one another, gained knowledge and self-confidence, and learned skills that are applicable in multiple settings.

Upon completing the latest PSAs, one Peer Leader had this to say: “Seeing the final PSAs is empowering because they turned out exactly how we wanted them to. It felt like we did the impossible and accomplished something great. Working on the PSAs taught us the importance of planning and looking at issues from different angles to make sure you can give a strong message to improve your community in the right way. We feel like we can do anything.”

Check out the PSAs here!

Michele Perlman is the Teens P.A.C.T. Project Director at Community Healthcare Network.

Seeking Validation: A Former Teen Parent’s Journey

Todaé Charles

Growing up as a teen parent, I was fearful. I had my four children when I was 13, 15, 17, and 19 years old. Because I was so young, I thought people would try to take my children away from me. As I grew up and raised my family, people would often ask, “How did you make it?”

My relationship with my mom was really strained. We were not close at all. Having gone through so many challenges alone, when I was 20 years old, I placed a call to my grandma and told her I was tired. At that moment I believed I wanted to commit suicide. My grandma said, “Todaé, if you wanted to commit suicide, you would not have called me.” I just held the phone as I sat on the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

Grandma asked, “Baby what prayer you are praying?” I answered, “The Serenity Prayer.” She said, “Wrong prayer my love, you need to ask God to help you to accept that your mother may not change, and she is doing the best she knows how to do.” With that piece of wisdom, I drove away from the bridge with all of my children in the back seat of my 1977 Impala Chevy Station wagon. I cried for hours and then realized she was right. In that instant, I decided enough was enough—I have a future. I knew my faith was weak, and I needed that reality check.

I am now 34 years young. My children are 20, 18, 16, and 14 years old with no children of their own. They are all career- and goal-oriented. I now understand that as a teen parent I was a child having children, and I had no direction. I, however, had ambition and motivation to survive. I was determined to make it because so many people had made up in their minds that I was not going to be anybody.

As I matured into a young adult, I often wanted acceptance from my mother. Unfortunately she would not say the words I wanted and so desperately believed I needed to hear. “I am proud of you.” Finally, on my 30th birthday she called and whispered, “I am proud of you.” I expected to feel a wealth of positive emotions, but I didn’t. I realized at that moment that I was proud of myself, and I did not need her validation anymore.

On February 14, 2011, my mother passed away at the age of 53 from Multiple Sclerosis. That morning, I spoke to my mom. I asked her, “Why were you so hard on me?” She replied, “You are my only girl, and I needed you to be strong. If I was soft on you, the world would have eaten you alive.” She then said again, “Baby, I love you, and I am truly proud of you.” That was when the emotions of joy, humbleness, and acceptance into adulthood welled up inside of me. I was thankful that my mom believed she could leave me here on earth and know that everything is going to be PHENOMENAL.

Later that evening she took her final rest, and I began a new phase of my journey.

Todaé Charles is the Teen Parenting Program Coordinator & Assistant Grant Writer at the Family & Leadership Empowerment Network and the recipient of Healthy Teen Network’s 2011 Outstanding Teen Parent Award.

5 Ways to Become an Approachable Parent: Positive Parenting for Teen Sexual Health

Sheila Overton, M.D., FACOG

One of the top questions I’ve encountered from parents as an Ob/Gyn and health educator is: “How can I get my teen to come to me with questions and concerns about sex?”

While some parents and teens may have that near-perfect, open relationship that allows them to discuss sensitive issues like sex easily, my experience is that most don’t. There are many things that parents can do to create an environment in which their teen feels comfortable coming to them with questions about sex.

One of the most important traits a parent can possess is that of an “Approachable Parent.” This is a parent who encourages their teen to feel safe and comfortable bringing up sensitive concerns. The top five traits of an approachable parent listed below are based on the feedback I’ve received from parents and teens during seminar presentations since 1998 and in my clinical work.

1. A Nonjudgmental Outlook

If you find out your 14-year-old teen has been having sex, how are you supposed to react? Being nonjudgmental doesn’t mean that you don’t get to have an opinion or to be upset. What it means is that you don’t react externally by condemning or berating your teen. In this instance, you might choose to say something like “This is upsetting, let’s talk.” A judgmental response might sound something like, “How could you let this happen? That’s really stupid on your part!” A nonjudgmental response is more likely to leave your teen feeling that she/he can really talk to you about the situation. 

2. A Listening Ear

This means really being attentive and listening actively, nodding your head or saying “yes” or “um hmm” to show that you are very interested in what’s being said. It also means using good eye contact with your teen and not interrupting.

It’s a good idea to ask your teen how she/he feels about the situation being discussed.

3. Open-mindedness

When concerns arise, flexibility and the willingness to consider several options are needed.

I strongly urge parents to be open to their teens talking to another close relative or an adult who is a close family friend about sex-related questions. I’ve seen parents react with hurt or anger at the thought of their teen turning to someone else. However, remember that the primary goal is that your teen be able to talk to a responsible adult who can give accurate information, not for you to always be in charge.

4. A Calm Demeanor

A calm demeanor will help you and your teen deal with what’s really important and to take more logical and meaningful steps in handling any situation.

For instance, if your 16-year-old-daughter told you she had an STI (sexually transmitted infection), a calm response might sound like this: “This is difficult news for me to hear. First of all, how are you feeling? I’m going to need a few moments to gather my thoughts together before we talk.”

5. Lightheartedness

As they say, “Laughter is the best medicine.” Maintaining a sense of humor, especially during the teen years, might seem difficult. The truth is that while early teen sex, teen pregnancy, and STIs are serious issues, there is room for humor when it comes to parenting, teen dating, and relationships. Many parents will appreciate Arnold Glasgow’s remark, “Telling a teenager the facts of life is like giving a fish a bath.”

What these five traits highlight is the concept that being an approachable parent means being the type of parent you wanted as a teen. It’s really that simple!

Sheila Overton, M.D., FACOG, is an ob/gyn and author of “Before It’s Too Late: What Parents Need to Know About Teen Pregnancy and STD Prevention”, available at Dr. Overton ran a teen pregnancy prevention program in Los Angeles for more than 10 years and is currently in private practice in Maryland. Follow her on Twitter: @DrOverton

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