Advertisement

Trump administration targets teen pregnancy prevention programs

A Broward program aimed at combating teen pregnancies faces elimination

Since the inauguration, there have been numerous reports on the attacks to the Affordable Care Act. Yet other dangerous moves by the Trump Administration and the federal government have gone underreported and otherwise ignored, such as the millions of dollars in funding recently cut by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) from teen pregnancy prevention programs across the nation.

HHS eliminated two years of funding from the program, effectively ending it next year. These federal grants support teacher training, materials and space at Baltimore schools.

Advertisement

Politics aside, we know that the children and teens in Baltimore City need access to comprehensive reproductive health education and support to ensure that they thrive and become healthy adults. The funding cuts from HHS' Office of Adolescent Health (OAH) jeopardize sexual health education and outreach programming in the city, promoted through the "U Choose, Know What U Want" campaign. The cuts in Baltimore City total $3.5 million. We cannot afford to lose this financial and educational support for Baltimore's youth.

The citywide U Choose campaign connects students, regardless of their neighborhood, with the resources and information to prevent unintended pregnancies. It is much more than sex education in schools; it is an integrated effort to reduce the city's teen pregnancy rate by facilitating connections between the city's education system, behavioral health providers and the broader health care system.

While growing up in West Baltimore, I was a member of the Baltimore City Health Department's Youth Advisory Council, which helps to guide the U Choose campaign. The council is made up of Baltimore City teens who act as peer health advocates to share information about reproductive health. This experience gave me the knowledge and self-confidence that I needed to become a resource for my friends on topics like safe sex, sexually transmitted infections and contraception. More importantly, the program gave me control over my life.

Without it, I likely would have been a teen mom and my future would have been much different.

For me, the Youth Advisory Council's work with U Choose was a great way to teach students about reproductive health because it created a safe space for me and my friends to talk about the issues we faced in our lives. Topics ranged from school drama to whether there was enough food at home.

Without the funding for U Choose, thousands of students in Baltimore will be stripped of this opportunity.

At the moment, the Baltimore City Health Department estimates that the HHS funding cuts will leave more than 20,000 Baltimore City students in 7th through 9th grades without access to the information afforded to me.

These students are the future of our city. The funding cuts demonstrate to us, young city residents, that young people are not worthy of this essential level of investment and that the government does not prioritize our well-being.

From a financial perspective, the cuts do not make sense. In 2010, teen pregnancy cost U.S. taxpayers $9.4 billion. While Baltimore has made enormous progress — teen pregnancy rates have dropped 44 percent — a disparity still exists between Baltimore City and the rest of Maryland.

The U Choose campaign is an opportunity to bridge that gap, and after only one full year of implementation, we are already seeing signs of progress. This year, the Baltimore City Health Department, along with partners that include the Baltimore City Public Schools, trained 115 teachers to deliver evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention programs in middle schools, high schools and Title X clinics. Approximately 12,000 Baltimore City teens received evidence-based programming during the 2016-2017 school year alone.

Teens in Baltimore City have the right to knowledge that can help them make decisions that promote wellness. With the right tools, we can make choices that ensure healthy bodies, families and futures.

Brittany Griffin has been a member of the Baltimore City Health Department's Youth Advisory Council, which works on the U Choose campaign, since 2011. Her email is bgriff24@jhmi.edu.

Advertisement
Advertisement