Free Condoms on Prom Night?

It was reported recently that a small public high school in Brooklyn, NY, would be making free condoms available at its upcoming prom. Condoms are already available for students of this school through its sex education program, according to the New York Times.

Darryl Rascoe, the school’s principal, told MSNBC, “As they leave the prom, they are welcome to it. We are not forcing it on anybody, but we want them to have that option.”

Since this news first hit the papers, plans to distribute the condoms have been scrapped. “I don’t want to do anything against DOE policy,” Rascoe said in an ABC interview.

In the MSNBC article, it was noted that “the prom condom distribution plan [would have been] accompanied by a safe sex school assembly sponsored by the condom maker a few days before the prom.” An essay contest on safe sex was also to be held and judged by the school’s English department. Parents had been notified about the plan, and the principal noted that he didn’t know of any opposition. That was until the story picked up steam and opponents and supporters alike voiced their opinions on the matter.

What do you think about offering free condoms on prom night? Good idea or bad? Take the poll and add your comments below!

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Refuting the “Freebie” Theory on Teen Pregnancy

Valerie Sedivy

Are your good intentions actually encouraging teen pregnancy?

Crazy as it sounds, it’s a question many of those who support young families find themselves having to answer. (As if this work wasn’t already hard enough!) While working last week with professionals who support teen parents, I learned that many professionals struggle to respond to accusations that by providing essential resources such as diapers and car seats to teen parents, they are encouraging more young women to become pregnant. Many in the room nodded their heads when one of these professionals recalled being told, “You are giving these girls so much free stuff; everybody’s going to want to get pregnant!”

You know and I know that young women do not become pregnant “for the freebies,” but how do we convince others that this is the case?

It turns out that many of these professionals have some sound strategies up their sleeves to combat these misperceptions. One program manager has developed a presentation that she shares with community leaders and partners. Among other things, the presentation includes a comparison of the dollar value of the resources they provide with the dollars required to support a child, showing that the resources they provide are really just a drop in the bucket when you consider the financial needs of these young parents.

Others have gone even further to address this concern by requiring those who receive these goods and services to attend school and special programs designed to build their skills as parents. Teens get “points” or “baby bucks” for meeting requirements, which can then be redeemed for baby products. But it’s not enough to simply have these incentive programs in place; they must be accompanied by communication efforts so that anyone concerned may understand that these parents are not receiving a reward for becoming pregnant.

Some other professionals make use of the abundance of scientific literature showing that teen pregnancy has a multitude of causes, but the promise of free products is not one of them. They also use the literature to show that efforts to support teen parents improve prospects for these young mothers, as well as their children.

What about you? Have your efforts to support teen parents caused you to be accused of promoting teen pregnancy? How have you responded?

Valerie Sedivy, Ph.D. is a Project Manager at Healthy Teen Network.

A Few Words on Awards

“Don’t worry when you are not recognized, but strive to be worthy of recognition.” –Abraham Lincoln

In a field full of people working passionately to empower youth to make positive decisions and a world where young parents are often maligned rather than praised for their tireless efforts to be wonderful parents, it’s sometimes easy to feel like these types of work often go unrecognized. Gestures of appreciation—large, small, and everywhere in between—are always an encouraging way to let someone know his or her efforts are valued and that he or she is absolutely worthy of recognition.

Healthy Teen Network’s annual award program was started years ago to recognize programs, groups, and individuals who have made outstanding contributions to promote the health and well-being of youth through their personal or professional efforts. Each year at our national conference, award presentations are always touching, and an opportunity when we collectively give a public high-five to those making a difference in the lives of others through their valuable work. The presentation of the Outstanding Teen Parent Award in particular almost always ends with nary a dry eye in the house, and Todaé Charles’ acceptance speech last year was no exception:

 

Later, Todaé told us, “Receiving the award completed a milestone of accomplishments for myself and my children. I serve, volunteer, and work to make a difference. I am and was honored to accept the award and know that the work is just beginning. However, I am seeing the fruits of my own labor.”

Hector Sánchez-Flores, recipient of the 2011 Carol Mendez Cassell Award for Excellence in Sexuality Education, called being bestowed with this award “a humbling experience.” “Dr. Cassell has contributed so much to field of positive sexual health education and being honored with this award reinvigorated my commitment to helping boys and girls create a positive vision for themselves and develop a healthy vision for who they ultimately wish to be,” he wrote. “Receiving the award for the collaborative work I have contributed has propelled me to think about how this work needs to be amplified to diverse and underserved groups of young people. I remain grateful to HTN for keeping this work alive for future generations.”

In 2010, BrdsNBz National Text Line System of the Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina was recognized with the Outstanding Emerging Innovation Award. BrdsNBz staff member Kennon Jackson later said, “The award catapulted the BrdsNBz Text Message Warm Line forward and cemented what we already knew in North Carolina: adolescents need our service.”

Healthy Teen Network has just opened our call for award nominations for 2012!

Do you know a former teen father or mother who has achieved extraordinary personal and professional success? How about a sexuality educator who  exemplifies vision, innovation, and commitment to evidence-based sexuality education policy and programs? Know of a new and innovative program making a difference in the lives of teens and young families? Recognize their work with a nomination!  Know others doing great things to empower teens and young adults? A simple thank you also goes a long way.

-Kelly Connelly is the Marketing and Communications Manager at Healthy Teen Network.

Talking About a Revolution

Deborah Chilcoat

I want to start a revolution. Right here. Right now. It cannot wait another moment. And I don’t mean the kind of revolution that requires us to occupy our local parks for weeks on end, or the kind that fizzles out when it’s no longer fashionable, or one that pits women against one another.

I want to start a revolution. I want Mother’s Day to be as Anna Jarvis envisioned: a day of rest for mothers…ALL mothers, including mothers who had their children young. Young mothers deserve to be served breakfast in bed, forgiven their laundry duty for 24 hours, and treated like royalty when they arrives at Friendly’s for a hard-earned hot fudge sundae.

I want to start a revolution. I want the greeting card mega-industry to include a selection of cards that gushes over the sacrifices young moms make; that celebrates their stamina and applauds their courage. I want the card to capture the reverence I feel when I think about the young women who tenderly kiss their child goodbye as they leave for school or work, spend sleepless nights soothing their child’s cries or bravely scare away the monsters under the bed, real or imagined. I want young moms to know that they will be supported, not scorned, for seeking help when their own well of patience runs dry.

I want to start a revolution. I want politicians to stop bickering. Specifically, I want them to stop bickering about who protects children and women more, Democrats or Republicans (which can be contradictory in the case of teen moms and their babies), which type of sexuality education works best (even though research proves that abstinence-only-until-marriage sex education is a complete failure), and which programs should get axed from government funding (without regard for their merits. Think, Title X Family Planning.). Young mothers are often too busy to worry about the political games played in Washington, D.C. But, we, the professionals who work with young parents must advocate on their behalf…with their involvement.

I want to start a revolution. I want an education system that stands up for the rights of young mothers and enforces Title IX–The Equal Opportunity in Education Act. When Title IX was enacted in 1972, the birth rate among women 15-19 years old was at a then-historic low (61.7 out of 1,000). In 2012, CDC data shows that teen birth rates have dropped to 34.3 per 1,000. However, even after 40 years of Title IX, young women are still being discriminated against for being pregnant, giving birth, or parenting and are subsequently dropping out–no, cast out–of school. Considering that education is directly linked to employment and economic security, young women and their children are often relegated to a life of poverty. Mothers, of any age, have a right to an education free of discrimination and the right to economic opportunity.

I want to start a revolution. I want more research conducted in the field of pregnant and parenting adolescents and young adults; the complexity of the issues surrounding young parenthood can be overwhelming, even for a seasoned practitioner like me. I want…no scratch that…WE ALL need more evidence-based programs that have been rigorously evaluated and proven to delay or prevent subsequent teen pregnancies. I want teen mothers to have the knowledge, skills, and ability to space their children’s birth greater than two years so that they and their family can be more successful in their educational and economic endeavors.

I want to start a revolution. I want young mothers to speak up and claim the honor, respect, and appreciation they deserve…and not just on Mother’s Day. I admire young mothers because they, too, struggle with the daily grind of parenthood: long days, longer nights, and worrying if they are doing right by their children. Every mom wonders if she’ll miss a momentous occasion, if she’s being too strict or too lax in her discipline, or if her kids will remember the times she caught their vomit in my, ah-hem, her hand. Young mothers are no different. Considering this, doesn’t it seem disingenuous NOT to celebrate young mothers on Mother’s Day…and everyday?

I feel the verve intensifying… Will you join the revolution?

Just for the record, THIS mother doesn’t expect breakfast in bed (There’s no time, I’ve got to shuttle my daughter to soccer tryouts and have to coach my son’s soccer game…all before noon!) or a reprieve from the laundry (Is it weird to experience nirvana while folding clean towels?). But I have already told my children that my Mother’s Day will be complete with them in my presence and a double-scoop of butter pecan ice cream in my tummy.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the moms reading this…no matter how old you are!

Deborah Chilcoat is the Senior Manager, Training and Technical Assistance at Healthy Teen Network.

The Stakes Remain High

Pat Paluzzi

Alexandra Eisler

The social networks have been a flutter with facts, opinions, and rumors since the release of three additional curricula to the Health and Human Services list of effective programs – Safer Choices, Respeto/Proteger, and Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education. Initially, Healthy Teen Network found research that appeared to call into question the efficacy of Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education. The “Life Skills” component that was referenced in our previous post refers to add-on sessions to the curriculum that were not found to impact the program’s outcomes. We have since located the unpublished manuscript that was used to assess this program, and we will review it to learn more about its findings.

Regardless, Healthy Teen Network remains concerned about any program that promotes abstinence only until marriage. This framework for teaching young people about their sexual health excludes a variety of populations including LGBTQ youth and people who choose not to marry. We believe that youth deserve unbiased information about their sexual health that allows them to think critically about their relationships and community. Healthy Teen Network welcomes the opportunity to examine this curriculum further; however, at this time Heritage Services indicated that they could not share a copy of their curriculum.

We will continue to inquire about the findings associated with this program, and provide updates as we learn more.  We invite you to share any knowledge and/or experience you have had with any of these three newly approved programs.

Pat Paluzzi is the President/CEO and Alex Eisler is the Training and TA Coordinator at Healthy Teen Network.

High Stakes. Big Mistake?

Pat Paluzzi

Alexandra Eisler

Please note that as of 05/03/2012, an update to this post, regarding the evaluation of the Heritage Keepers program, has been posted here.

To be clear: this time of evaluating and expanding the public health field to support young people in making healthy decisions about their sexual health is a time to celebrate. This is a time when those with money, power, and sway hold a unique responsibility to back programming that promotes the well-being of all youth and provides them with accurate information that promotes healthy decision-making. The President’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have played a central role in disseminating effective programs that promote these goals and have stood firm in approaching this work so that it values all young people and their families.

However, with that said, Healthy Teen Network was concerned to find that the expansion of the current list of HHS-vetted programs included Heritage Keepers Abstinence Only Education. HHS itself noted in 2007 that this program not only demonstrated “little or no impact on sexual abstinence or activity” but that its evaluation lacked rigor to determine if the collected behavioral data indicated actual behavior change among participants.[1]*

Looking to other programs on this list, they are rigorously evaluated with their results published in peer-reviewed journals providing a layer of quality control that ensures youth receive high-quality interventions that can save their lives. This program, Heritage Keepers Abstinence Education, has failed to be published. We, as public health professionals, should take pause at this shortcoming. Certainly, there are many quality programs available that have not been published, but those programs are not on this list and therefore not a part of this massive funding stream of tax dollars.

The program’s outcomes appear to be largely based on middle school students’ support of abstinence and expectation to remain abstinent.* Intentions to remain abstinent are a weak proxy to promote the health of our adolescents, and intentions do not necessarily result in a change in sexual-risk taking behaviors. Just look at the research on virginity pledges (82% of those who pledge deny having ever pledged).[2] In fact, the 2007 Mathematica report on this program—submitted to HHS—indicates the following:

  • Youth in the [Heritage Keepers program] and control groups reported similar rates of sexual abstinence. (p. 40)[3]
  • Youth in the [Heritage Keepers program] and control groups did not differ in reported age at first sex. (p. 41)[3]*

The stakes here are incredibly high and we should ask why a program like this would be included in the ranks of effective programs.

Evaluation aside, couching this program in the context of marriage and traditional gender roles flies in the face of championing the health of all communities. Narrowly focused messages like those espoused in this curriculum are at best ignorant of the needs of many youth, in particular LGBTQ youth, and at worst prejudicial and homophobic. Adolescents have the right to learn about their sexual health and determine what is right for them and their families without being bombarded with divisive ideology. For more information on some of the potentially damaging curriculum content, see this review.

As advocates for our young people, we have a responsibility to ensure that they get accurate information that allows them to build the lives that they themselves choose. The inclusion of a program like this in our most notable list of resources reflects poorly not only on the President’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, it reflects poorly on all of us. As an organization with young people’s health first and foremost in mind, Healthy Teen Network is outraged and saddened that work of this caliber represents the sexual health profession. This is a time to hold our leaders accountable for promoting programming that places the lives of our youth and our families at risk.

Pat Paluzzi is the President/CEO and Alex Eisler is the Training and TA Coordinator at Healthy Teen Network.


[3] http://aspe.hhs.gov/hsp/abstinence07/HK/report.pdf

*This post has been updated.  These statements regarding evaluation relate to a 2007 review, but these do not appear to be the same evaluation results used in the 2011 review.  See our updated post here.

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