Connecting the Hard-to-Reach with Pregnancy Prevention

Photograph of a young couple smilingSometimes it takes years for a great idea to germinate. About a half-dozen years ago, Donna Maselli attended what was to be the first meeting of a subcommittee on teen pregnancy prevention among youth in Connecticut’s foster care system. For various reasons, the subcommittee never met again. But Maselli, who oversees women’s health issues at the Connecticut Department of Public Health, didn’t forget what she’d learned about the high risk of pregnancy faced by teens in the child welfare system.

When the opportunity came to apply for a State Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP) grant to combat adolescent pregnancy among groups most at risk, Maselli jumped at the chance. The result has been a collaborative project, funded by the Family and Youth Services Bureau, that involves four state agencies and several nonprofits in bringing sexual health education to youth in group homes.

“It’s just a phenomenal partnership of people,” Maselli says. “We get things done, and we make decisions.” That work is propelled by a PREP advisory board that consists of Maselli and representatives from the state’s Departments of Education, Mental Health and Addiction Services, and Children and Families.

Delivering sexual health education to foster youth is often hard because they move in and out of the system, Maselli says. So Connecticut’s PREP advisory board decided to offer once-a-year condensed sexual health education at the state’s Short-Term Assessment & Respite, or STAR, homes. Youth stay at the homes when they are entering (or re-entering) the child welfare system, before they get a longer term placement.

“It just didn’t seem responsible not to include some sort of programming for these kids,” Maselli says.

Sarah Gannon of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, which implements the grant, says the 3-hour program at STAR homes, using components of the Streetwise to Sex-wise curriculum, has been so successful several homes have requested additional sessions.

“We may not be able to reach every youth every time,” Gannon says, “but if they hear [about sexual health] from someone other than group home staff, they take it a little more seriously.”