Power Through Choices: OICA Empowers Youth in Foster Care

Diverse young people sitting outdoors.Youth in foster care are 2.5 times more likely to become pregnant or get someone pregnant compared with their peers not in foster care. Knowing this, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA), supported by the Family and Youth Services Bureau (FYSB) and the Annie E. Casey Foundation, is equipping these vulnerable youth to avoid risk-taking sexual behaviors with Power Through Choices (PTC).

PTC is a sexuality education and skill-building curriculum designed for youth living in foster care and other out-of-home settings to reduce risks related to teen pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections. According to Sharon Rodine, OICA’s director of youth initiatives, the curriculum is unique because it was not adapted from an existing program, but was written with foster youth from the very beginning.

“Young people themselves [worked] with our terrific facilitators and project directors to address real needs in their lives and do it in a way that it’s an engaging process so the information is relevant and really sticks,” Rodine says.

Instead of telling foster youth what to do or not to do, the PTC facilitators focus on empowering youth to make their own informed decisions. “They didn’t just stand at the front of the room and talk at us,” one PTC program graduate recalls. “They didn’t just go through a curriculum…They got involved with us; they asked us questions.”

The PTC facilitators give sexual risk scenarios and ask youth to think critically and talk with each other about the choices they might make and the different outcomes they’d experience as a result. A key change the program directors observe in the program participants is a growing willingness to have open, honest conversations about sex and other behaviors with adults and peers.

The facilitators are key to this transformation. Just by learning the participants’ names and not labeling or judging them for their situation, the facilitators show their respect for the youth. “They’re treating me differently because they’re listening to me,” one PTC program graduate explains.

After completing the program, the youth participants often share what they’ve learned with their peers and siblings. “They’re very in tune with the concepts of risk and also safety, and they want to make sure that the people they love are safe,” Sheila Cavallo, the OICA PTC coordinator, explains. “I love to see that change because I know it doesn’t just end. It keeps going.”

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