Teen pregnancy prevention in the Portland area will see a major boost in funding and direction thanks to funding from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Getting ready to implement the new sex education programs from Planned Parenthood’s headquarters on Northeast Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard are Camelia Hison, vice president of education for Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette (from left), and Amanda McLaughlin and Bianca Taveras, education coordinators for the local organization.
Photo by Mark Washington
Planned Parenthood implements new policy
Teen pregnancy prevention programs in Portland and the Pacific Northwest will get a major boost of financial support and change of direction because of a new sex education policy that’s a departure from the former Bush administration’s abstinence-only directives.
The Northwest Coalition for Adolescent Health has been awarded $20 million by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services to replicate a proven, evidence-based youth development sex education program in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska that reduces teen pregnancy while boosting academic achievement, extracurricular activities and smarter life decisions.
The coalition is comprised of six Planned Parenthood affiliates, including Portland. It will focus on areas throughout Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Montana and Alaska where teen birth and pregnancy rates are high and health disparities exist.
No longer abstinence-only
As part of the Obama administration’s new sex education policy, eligibility for the federal support was limited to teen pregnancy prevention programs that have been proven to make a positive, effect on sexual activity, contraceptive use, sexually transmitted infections, pregnancy or births.
For hundreds of Portland area young people, that will mean access to Planned Parenthood’s Teen Outreach Program, a youth development program aimed at reducing teen pregnancy.
The program’s expansion means it can target a diverse population of the highest risk youth in grades 7-12 in a mix of rural and urban communities. The program is expected to reach over 2,500 youth in Oregon and 8,000 youth across the five states during a 5-year project period.
The foremost goal is to significantly reduce teen pregnancy. Additionally, the program seeks to increase the numbers of youth who delay onset of sexual activity; increase the numbers of youth using protection when sexually active; significantly decrease academic course failure and school suspensions; and increase youth’s positive attitude towards service and community engagement.
“Planned Parenthood has been providing life-changing youth development programs to youth in Oregon and Southwest Washington for 47 years,” said Camelia Hison of Planned Parenthood Columbia-Willamette, the local affiliate headquartered in Portland. “Oregon’s teens are the big winners in this announcement. We are so lucky to have this unprecedented opportunity to implement such a well-respected, successful teen pregnancy prevention program here in our state.”
The Teen Outreach Program will take place in schools and community agencies, engaging youth in weekly sessions over a nine-month period. The curriculum includes age-appropriate sessions on relationships, communication, goal setting, and sexual health – along with a vital community service component.
“We are excited to partner with other youth serving organizations and schools to provide this program across the region,” said Mary Gossart, who oversees education and training for the Portland Planned Parenthood affiliate.
Nearly 750,000 teens in the United States will become pregnant each year. Teen mothers are more likely to drop out of school and fall into poverty. Children born to teen mothers also face significant life challenges: they are more likely to drop out of school, experience unintended pregnancies early in life, and experience more financial and health disparities compared to children of older parents.
Evidence has shown that abstinence-only programs have not helped lower the teen pregnancy rate or the likelihood of teens having sex.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention the teen birth rate rose from 2005 to 2007 after years of steady decline, and then dropped again in 2008. More recently the CDC released a report showing almost all U.S. teens have had formal sex education, but only about two-thirds have been taught birth control methods.
The federal grant will also create multiple new full-time jobs within Planned Parenthood in Oregon.