In West Virginia, an Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention and Runway and Homeless Youth Grantee Collaborate to Empower Homeless Youth
The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources uses federal support from FYSB’s State Personal Responsibility Education Program (State PREP) to implement teen pregnancy prevention programs with youth most at-risk for pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections. The agency partners with Children’s Home Society of West Virginia, a social services provider, to offer teen pregnancy prevention programs to teens in out-of-home care at 14 sites across the state. One of the agency’s implementation sites, the Mid-Town Family Resource Center, has focused primarily on homeless youth served by the agency’s basic center program, a grantee of FYSB’s Runaway and Homeless Youth Program.
Deena Ellison, director of West Virginia’s State PREP program, regards the partnership with Mid-Town Family Resource Center as a united effort to support homeless youth by sharing knowledge and hope with youth who can use it most. “Whether being pregnant leads to homelessness or homelessness leads to getting pregnant, reproductive health is a huge priority because pregnancy limits [teens’] options and choices,” she says.
Through the collaboration, instructors at the Mid-Town Family Resource Center present information about reproductive health and organize strengths-based activities using Making Proud Choices, an evidence-based curriculum. Participants, ranging from age 15 to 20, meet every Tuesday and Thursday and are divided into small groups of 10 to help build comfort and confidence as they share their questions and experiences around relationship abuse, risky sexual behaviors, and healthy goals for their future.
The Mid-Town Family Resource Center staff also use group meetings to introduce youth to local service providers, including agencies that provide pathways to job support, family planning, and safe housing. Agency representatives often visit the group in-person to explain available services and what youth can expect when they seek assistance, according to Children’s Home Society Director Lisa Doyle-Parsons. Discovering local resources is especially important for youth experiencing homelessness, some of whom offer sex in exchange for food or a place to stay, she states. Knowing they can meet their needs without offering something in return gives youth a sense of control and the power to say “no” to abusive situations.
In fact, the program gives participants another valuable skill—the ability to negotiate their relationships to make choices in their own best interest. According to Ellison, young people learn strategies for communicating their needs and preferences with others and participate in role-play scenarios to practice those lessons. “It's a huge deal for teenagers [because] they don’t know how to say, ‘I want to protect myself.’ They don’t know they can say ‘no,’” Ellison says.
Many of the youth who have received support at the Mid-Town Family Resource Center continue to stay engaged in the community by volunteering with Children’s Home Society or other local initiatives. Participants have been empowered to contribute to point-in-time counts of individuals experiencing homelessness, participate in activities to increase homelessness awareness, and offer feedback for a newly developed human trafficking project. The shift marks young people’s desire not only to use community resources themselves, but also to serve as resources for others. Doyle-Parsons says, “Instead of victims, they are now victors.”