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Health

Teen pregnancy prevention program in LAUSD and Compton fighting for survival after federal cuts




A woman inspecting a pregnancy test.
A woman inspecting a pregnancy test.
Jason Coleman via Flickr Creative Commons

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Last month, over 80 teen pregnancy prevention programs around the country got word they are facing a fiscal cliff. The federal Office of Adolescent Health, overseen by the Trump Administration's Department of Health and Human Services, informed researchers and educators their grant funding will be cut short. For most, that means ending curriculum and data gathering two years early.

One of the programs left reeling from the news serves students and parents in Los Angeles and Compton Unified School Districts. It's called "Keeping It Real Together."

A co-director of the program joined A Martinez on Tuesday to discuss.

Dr. Kristin Meyer is the Director of Youth Prevention Programs with the L.A. County Department of Public Health division of HIV & STD programs.

Tell me about Keeping it Real Together. You're working with USC to lower the teenage pregnancy rate--Who do you reach? And what's the curriculum like?

This is the second grant we've received from the Office of Adolescent Health. The first was an efficacy based program where we took a middle school program called, "It's My Game, Keep It Real," and we tested it among middle schoolers in L.A. County, across 24 middle schools. It was found to be effective in encouraging positive attitudes about delaying sex, abstinence, and condom use when they do become sexually active. And because this was such a successful grant, the Office of Adolescent Health awarded us a second grant, known as a scale-up grant, which is what we have right now. We're going to be in 45 middle schools this year, and 11 high schools. And we're hoping to reach over 800 parents with our parent curriculum. 

Unfortunately because of the funding environment, this will be the last year of the program, it's anticipated, though we are working closely with our partners at LAUSD and Compton USD and other community partners to find a way forward to sustain the progress that we've made locally.

I'm interested in these workshops for parents. I think a lot of parents out there want to know, what's the best course of advice on how to talk to a kid about sexual health?

This is a very common question. Most parents are not comfortable talking to their kids about these sensitive issues. But they are among the most influential individuals in a child's life. We know scientifically, when parents share their goals for their kids, and share that they wish them to have healthy adult lives, kids are more likely to delay sex or to protect their health.

So our program is a 2-3 hour workshop...either in Spanish and English, and it gets parents more familiar with puberty and human development but also starts the conversation with them. What's a healthy relationship? Connecting with their kids. How to start that conversation and how to express their hopes for their kids that they will protect their health and make smart decisions moving forward.

Tell me about the letter you received last month? What did it say and who was it from?

We annually get a 'Notice of Grant Award,' usually at the start of the grant year, which is the beginning of July. It states the funding that we'll be getting for that year. This notice came on the 5th of July. It was just a simple 2-3 sentence paragraph at the bottom of the front page stating our funding saying that the program would be ending as of June 30th, 2018.

Did you have any warning about this? 

There was no warning, it took us by surprise. We knew policies might be changing in Washington, but we did not anticipate finding this out through the Notice of Grant Award.

Does this kind of thing happen to grant programs a lot when a new administration begins?

In my experience this is an unprecedented change. The federal government has been funding 81 grantees across the country, and many of these are testing the efficacy of curriculum in delaying [sexual activity], but also scaling up what we know to be evidence-based programs. And collecting data to show the impact of these programs. Our nation has invested millions of dollars in these initiatives, and to cut them short by two years means we won't have the data moving forward. It really cuts our nose off to spite our face.

What's the future look like for Keeping it Real Together? And for all of these programs?

One of the benefits of working in this line of work is you find yourself surrounded by people who are very committed--very committed to the youth, to the issues. So we are working very hard with our community partners and partners across the country to look at sustainable routes forward.

We just had a very promising meeting with our teacher advisory board last weekend, teachers from Compton Unified and from LAUSD, planning out ways to help this work move forward. It's a challenging period but we're in it for the long haul.