By Preparing Teens for Adulthood, We Can Prevent Too-Early Pregnancy

This article originally appeared on the ACF Family Room Blog on May 19, 2014.

When it comes to preventing adolescent pregnancy, we know that teens themselves are the key.

Compared to 10, 15 or 20 years ago, more teens are using contraception and fewer teens are having sex.

But researchers rightly point out that some teens may be more focused than others on avoiding pregnancy by abstaining or using contraceptives. Many young people are ambivalent about becoming parents at a young age. They may not see viable opportunities to “move up the economic ladder.”

Homeless youth, foster youth, youth in areas with high birth rates, young people who have already had children are the young people that we most need to reach, providing them with access to sexual health education and services and, just as important, a vision for a better future. That’s what we’re trying to do through the Family and Youth Services Bureau’s Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Program.

The 172 grants we administer throughout the nation and several U.S. territories target vulnerable populations by providing culturally relevant and age-appropriate comprehensive and abstinence-only sex education.

To reduce factors that put youth at risk and boost factors that protect them, abstinence education grantees provide mentoring, counseling, adult supervision. Additionally, Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) grantees feature adult preparation subjects like parent communications or financial literacy — topics aimed at building success in school and future careers.

At Bethany Christian Services, in Grand Rapids, Mich., a Competitive Abstinence Education grant from FYSB funds 16-weeks of carefully calibrated programming and services for refugee and U.S.-citizen foster youth. Youth participate in an evidence-based positive youth development intervention called Teen Outreach Program, or TOP, plus a trauma-informed curriculum created by Bethany staff. The mostly 14- to 18-year-olds (and a few older youth) also benefit from a host of social services and referrals offered by Bethany.

“Because they don’t have control, [foster youth] take control anywhere they can in their lives — sexual relationships, acting out in school, knowing healthy boundaries but choosing to go against them because that’s in their power,” says Bethany’s Youth Development Specialist Linette Dyer. “Our program teaches them that they do have control.”

The Georgia Campaign for Adolescent Power & Potential, or GCAPP, is another example of an adolescent pregnancy prevention group broadening its sights to focus on the overarching issues teens face. This linkage of prevention topics is consistent with the notion of PREP and adult preparation as addressing more than simply disease prevention or avoiding unplanned pregnancy. 

“Obesity is a big one,” says Kim Nolte, GCAPP’s vice president of programs and training. “So we’ve started expanding our work into adolescent health and well-being.”

New GCAPP initiatives include a curriculum for parents to improve their children’s eating habits. The organization is also collaborating with seven Atlanta churches to develop a physical activity plan for young people living in “food deserts,” where there are few grocery stores and other sources of healthy food.

Across the country, you can find other examples of states, communities and organizations that are wrapping teen pregnancy prevention into youth empowerment, health promotion, and poverty prevention efforts.

By all accounts, we’re headed in the right direction in our quest to prevent teen pregnancy. By prepping youth for the future, we can keep up the good momentum and keep teen birth rates falling!

Visit the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month website for more information about FYSB’s efforts and what you can do to help.