Small Successes Yield Big Rewards in Oklahoma Teen Pregnancy Prevention

In Oklahoma, one of the 10 states with the highest teen pregnancy rates, the need to teach youth to make better sexual choices is urgent. Sheila Cavallo coordinates the Oklahoma Institute of Child Advocacy’s POWER Through Choices project, which receives funding from the Family and Youth Services Bureau’s State Personal Responsibility Education Program. Cavallo recently ran the 10-session evidence-based curriculum at a group home for boys in Oklahoma’s child welfare system.

“This particular group of boys comes with a whole host of behavioral issues, which made facilitating curriculum in their home particularly challenging,” Cavallo says.

Cavallo recounts that one boy in particular, who had been in the foster care system since he was two years old, was difficult to engage. “He has a completely understandable distrust of adults, and this leads him to be reserved.”

Until  Cavallo made a breakthrough at a session not long ago.

“I greeted him, and although he was polite, I found him to be as distant as in the weeks past. Minutes later, he called to me: ‘Sheila, I had a situation when I was on home pass this weekend.  It could have gone the wrong way… I could have made a bad decision.  But I remembered what I learned in Power Through Choice, and I made good choices that kept me safe.’”

“I must have lit up like a Christmas tree,” Cavallo says, “breaking into a huge smile and saying, ‘Great job!  I’m so glad you were able to use what you learned to keep you safe.’ He answered me in kind, with one of only two unguarded smiles he’s ever offered.”

“I was relieved to know that we did have impact, that our messages did get through and translated to real world behavioral change that supports positive development,” Cavallo says. “But more than that, I was thrilled that this young man is creating change for himself, realizing his own power and putting it to work in the service of both his present and his future.”