So Now That “That’s” Over, What Comes Next?

Bob Reeg

Bob Reeg

The “That” in question is the most recent in a series of breakdowns in Congressional functioning, this time manifest by the institution’s inability to adopt annual appropriations for the federal government to continue to operate, compounded by a lapse in authority for the government to pay its creditors. And, despite the laps being run around the ring declaring the continued funding agreement to reopen government (through January 15, 2014) and extend the debt limit (through February 7, 2014) a “historic victory,” these are actually just short-term crisis avoidance steps, not a long-term solution.

Alas, so now that “that’s over, what’s next for Healthy Teen Network, the members we represent, and the youth and families they serve in terms of our public policy focus? Here’s my take.

First, we will need to stay on top of – and engage in – the upcoming debate on the federal budget, both for Fiscal Year 2014 (which began October 1, but for which operations are continuing on FY 2013 funding levels) and for the long-term. Congress has appointed a group of its members to prepare a comprehensive budget plan for the full body to consider by the end of the year. The group must report its work by December 13.

Let’s be clear. While the political dynamics may have shifted due to the shut-down/debt ceiling debacle (in terms of balance of power between the President and Congress, Democrats and Republicans, tea party conservatives vs. other factions; public perception of which party is “at fault” for the shutdown, etc.), the philosophical and fiscal issues that paralyzed Congress from fulfilling its basic responsibility to finance the government remain the same. What are core functions of the national government? Should we balance the budget by spending cuts alone, or also by raising revenues? Should we balance the budget by cutting discretionary programs alone, or also by cutting spending on mandatory retirement and health care programs?  Should we reduce the budget deficit quickly or gradually? The network of federally-funded safety net programs that support children, youth, and families will again be in the crosshairs. So we had best gear up to stand our ground and insist on a strong federal role in ensuring youth health and well-being.

Second, adolescent sexual and reproductive health organizations should take full advantage of the federal laws and programs that remain available today. We must ensure that federal resources provided to address the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people, such as the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative, Pregnancy Assistance Fund, Personal Responsibility Education Program, Maternal and Child Health Block Grant Program, and Title X Family Planning Program, are deployed most efficiently and utilized most effectively. (Healthy Teen Network plays a big role in that by providing training and technical assistance to recipients of these federal funds to guide them to desired outcomes.) Of course Healthy Teen Network will be calling upon our members to share their stories of the individual and community successes resulting from these federal investments as the programs come up for reauthorization and annual appropriations.

Finally, we urge families and young people themselves to utilize the network of federally-funded programs and services available to give them a hand up during times of need. Healthy Teen Network urges its members to help their program beneficiaries to connect to vital federal programs. Moms and dads with young children, including teen parents, should consider taking part in a home visiting program to build their parenting skills and help their infants and toddlers develop on schedule. Parents should enroll their children in Head Start or other early childhood development program. If you’re hungry, apply for SNAP benefits (formerly known as “Food Stamps”) or WIC (Women, Infants, and Children program). Make sure your school-age children attend school regularly, and demand your school district to help you get your child to school if you are not able to do so independently. Find a health center or family planning clinic serving your community. And most critically at this time, sign up for private health insurance or Medicaid from a Health Insurance Marketplace.

Opponents of the Affordable Care Act, the landmark health care reform law passed in 2010, have attempted REPEATEDLY to dismantle the law. But they have failed repeatedly, too. Efforts are currently underway to encourage and help eligible families and individuals, including young adults and families with children and adolescents, to enroll in coverage, with the possibility of a federal subsidy for all or some of the cost of the insurance depending on your income level. If you lack health insurance coverage or know someone else without it, encourage them to explore whether the Affordable Care Act will get them the health care insurance and services that all people deserve in order to thrive!

When I see a news headline or Facebook post about Congress these days, I typically shake my head in either bewilderment or disgust. But when I reflect just a bit deeper about the programs and services that are available today to help citizens with vulnerabilities and challenges, such as those mentioned above, I return to a more optimistic state. For these very programs were established by past Congresses. And so we can return to that time. We can hold onto, and improve upon, this history of sound social public policy. But only if we elect representatives who hold a commitment to government as a solution for meeting human needs, and then demanding good legislating from those we select.

Bob Reeg is a Program Development and Public Policy Consultant at Healthy Teen Network.

Blog Roundup

Check out some recent blog posts we found interesting. Hope you do, too!

When Bitter Breakups and Digital Photography Meet: What to Teach Our Kids About Revenge Porn

“Revenge porn,” a term used to describe cyberbullying that includes posting sexually explicit pictures of someone else, has become so prevalent that some states have passed specific laws to punish this behavior. What should kids be taught about this?

As parents and educators, I think our responsibility is two-fold. First, we have to remind those growing up in this digital age of what should not but can happen to the pictures you decide to take. We need to teach young people to do a gut check before they hit send.

Mental Health Day: What About Teen Parents?

Gloria Malone examines why the mental health of teen parents is often overlooked, and how we can change that.

In the event that we feel strong enough to speak to someone about our struggles and how we feel broken our confessions are met with hurtful statements like: “That’s what you get. You made your bed now lay in it.” “No one told you to get pregnant.” “Oh you don’t like being an adult? Then you shouldn’t have done adult things” and even more hurtful and abusive comments.

At-Risk vs. At-Promise Youth

The term “at-risk youth” is familiar to most, but what about the lesser-used “at-promise”?

While reviewing research regarding at-risk youth and prevention strategies, I was introduced to a term I hadn’t heard before: At-promise youth.  Proponents of the term say it describes youth as having capacity to be successful, rather than implying (through the term “at-risk”) that lower socio-economic kids lack potential to achieve success.

Candy Corn, Cold Weather, and Conversations…

It’s never too early to begin communicating with your children in age-appropriate ways about sex, love, and relationships. The topics can be difficult, however, for parents to broach. This blog post from The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy provides tips and resources to make this type of important conversation a little easier for parents.

Believe it or not, despite the glazed looks in their eyes and the horrified expressions on their faces, teens consistently say that parents–not peers, not partners, and not pop culture–MOST influence their decisions about sex.  In fact, according to our most recent Survey Says polling report, teens say it would be much easier for them to avoid pregnancy if they were able to talk more openly with their parents about these topics.

Studies Look at Access to Family Planning Services Provided at Federally Qualified Health Centers

Contraception recently published two studies that look at the types and access to family planning services provided at community health clinics that are “considered a popular primary care option for low-income women of reproductive age.” This blog post from Our Bodies Ourselves includes important findings and implications from each study.

The studies, produced by researchers at the George Washington University School of Public Health, examine the services at Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs). These health clinics provide primary and preventive care on a sliding scale, primarily to low-income and uninsured patients. It’s also worth noting that when states attempt to defund Planned Parenthood clinics, these are clinics to which many women may get directed for care.

Keep It Simple!

keepitsimple_screenshotGrowing up isn’t easy. Helping teens navigate their sexual health isn’t easy either. Right now, across the country, folks are working tirelessly to make sure teens learn about sex, love, self-respect, and taking care of themselves—and we love you for it!.

But there are some things we can make simpler, like making sure the young people we serve, live near, care about, and educate know that they have the right to high quality sexual health care and that we care enough to help them get it.

So, Keep It Simple! Healthy Teen Network and CAI teamed up to create another way we can help teens get a handle on this whole growing-up-thing. We developed a short, to-the-point lesson plan you can use along with your sex ed program, health educators, clinic outreach staff….however you can think to meet teens where they are.

What is it?

Keep It Simple is a 45-minute lesson plan that covers:

  • Minors’ right to reproductive health care;
  • A short, fun film, or motion graphic, (4:30) about the services and contraceptives available at teen friendly  health centers;
  • Information about where teens can go to get these services and how to get in touch with folks who can help;
  • A planning activity to help get the “heavy lifting” out of the way when it comes to getting started seeing a clinician.

Keep It Simple comes with a super handy template that will help you relay information about teens’ rights to seek out sexual health care and a template for referring young people to the health centers that will meet their needs. The lesson plan has easy to follow information about understanding what it means to be a teen friendly health care provider—so you can find one when you need one.

BONUS: The film is available online and can be shared via social media!

DOUBLE BONUS: The film is also in Spanish, titled No te compliques!

Things to Know

  • While this lesson and its materials are flexible, if you’re using an evidence-based intervention (EBI), you should consider using it before or after the programming or talk to the EBI’s authors.
  • The fancy templates above? For those, you’ll need a free Prezi account and then you can totally customize them to suit exactly what your teens need. Just print them from the Prezi site!
  • Last, but most importantly, teens need to not only know that sexual and reproductive health care is available to them—they need a reason to seek it. Youth who have dreams for the future and feel connected to their community are more likely to actively avoid pregnancy, STIs, and HIV.  That means that while this lesson is fabulous, it is most appropriately delivered with other activities that support teens in exploring their goals so they will see how important it is to protect their health.

We (CAI and Healthy Teen Network) had the pleasure of working with the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy’s DC Teen Advisory Group (DC-TAG), whose thoughts and input on this project made the materials come together. We thank them for their insight and creativity.

We are so excited to hear what you think, too, so please keep us posted! Also, we’ll be presenting a workshop on Keep It Simple! with CAI at our upcoming conference in Savannah—we hope you’ll be there too!

What other resources have you found helpful for teens navigating their sexual healthcare?  Do you think this type of animation will be well received by the youth you serve? Let us know in the comments section!

alex_new_blogAlexandra Eisler is a Training and Technical Assistance Manager at Healthy Teen Network.

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