Teen pregnancy group revises deadline

Despite its best efforts, the OneAthens Teen Pregnancy Team has reevaluated and decided to push back its December 2010 deadline of reducing the teen pregnancy rate in Athens.

The team, established in 2007, originally planned on reducing the teen pregnancy rate in Athens by 25 percent in three years, but has since extended the deadline to December 2012.

When the group noticed that local and national statistics showed an increase in the teen pregnancy rate in 2008 it decided to reevaluate, said Jessica Heinze, the Taskforce Facilitator for the team. “This [the reevaluation] goes along with a slight increase that was seen across the nation during the time that is linked to the Bush Administrations funding for abstinence-only sex education programs,” said Heinze. “We are hoping that once more recent data is processed, it will show a decline in the rates.”

Athens-Clarke County has an average of 65 births per every thousand girls ages 15-19, according to 2007 statistics from the U.S. Census bureau. This rate exceeds the national rate of 40 by 25, and is over eight times more than the rate in France, which is a mere eight.

Lowering the teen pregnancy rate was just one part of the plan. The team also wanted to spread education and awareness, so they devised a list of suggestions on ways to educate the youth and parents of Athens. Three of the five suggestions listed were:

• Make policy recommendations to the Clarke County School Board to ensure that children are receiving accurate, up-to-date, comprehensive sex education each year in grades six through twelve;

• Educate parents to be effective health educators of their children;

• Support policies and increase funding for public health and community organizations’ efforts to prevent teen pregnancies, and provide teens with convenient, confidential access to birth control.”

Recommendations on how to achieve these goals were also created and included items such as providing opportunities to educate teens and parents, restricting the time that teens are left unsupervised, and providing support for the organizations already working to prevent teen pregnancy. While the team has not yet succeeded in reducing the teen pregnancy rate, it has been working hard to follow through on its goals and recommendations to spread awareness.

Opening a second Teen Matters clinic is one way it has done this. Two Teen Matters clinics exist in Athens. They provide various services to teen girls and boys, such as pregnancy testing, STD testing, and physicals. They also provide a way for teens to access birth control and one on one health counseling. All services are free of charge and do not require permission from a parent.

The second clinic is only open part-time, but Marcia Massengill, County Nurse Manager for Clarke County Public Health, notes that the clinic’s clients are continually increasing. “Our numbers have steadily increased since we have opened and continue to increase each quarter,” said Massengill. “In fact, in the last year alone they increased about 75-100 percent.”

According to Massengill, the clinic also has trained health professionals who teach classes in schools, community facilities, and even churches. “We can teach a class at any place that invites us to come teach,” said Massengill. “Recently, our class that has become the most popular is the ‘Talking the Birds and Bees’ class for parents. We have been asked to come speak at many PTA and parent meetings.”

The “Talking the Birds and Bees” class fulfils another goal set by the team to help educate parents. This class teaches parents how to talk to their children about puberty, sex, and sexual decision-making. The team has also hosted various youth conferences on sexual decision-making. They are required to hold four conferences a year, but according to Heinze, they usually host one a month.

So far, the most significant accomplishment the team has assisted in, is allowing an abstinence-based instead of abstinence only sexual education policy in public schools. “Before teachers and health professionals could only recommend abstinence, even if the teenager asked about birth control or other forms of contraceptives,” said Massengill. “Now, while we still always recommend abstinence, we can at least discuss methods to practice safe sex.”

This change was not something that happened overnight. “It took several years. It involved a lot of community outreach, public forums, hearing from parents, students, community members, and CCSD [Clarke County School District] board members,” said Heinze. “Most people were on board with introducing a comprehensive sex ed curriculum, but it took a lot of time to choose one appropriate for Clarke County schools, about a year. F.L.A.S.H. was chosen because it is comprehensive, easy to follow, and free online.”

Family Life and Sexual Health or F.L.A.S.H., the program Heinze is referring to was implemented this past school year in grades K-9. “It is not being taught to 10-12 [grades] because PE is not mandatory for those grades,” said Heinze. “The district has to decide how to introduce F.L.A.S.H. into other classes (English, Math, etc.), so they will introduce 10-12 one year at a time.”

The new program is comprised of curriculum that builds year after year and involves teachers, parents, administrators, and students. Field trips, guest speakers, and panel discussions on a variety of topics are also included in addition to reading materials. Topics discussed in the 11th and 12th grade curriculum include gender roles in society, HIV/Aids, and parenting, including a unit entitled “Focus on Fathering”.

While arguably the most important goal of the teen pregnancy team has yet to be accomplished, it is fair to say that the team has worked hard and is continuing to work hard to make its goal a reality.

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