It doesn’t take much to stir up the right-wing bloggers and uneducated pundits (I’m looking at you, Rush Limbaugh). How much DOES it take, precisely? $100,000. What are they freaking out about now? Sex education for pregnant and at-risk female juvenile offenders.
The National Institutes of Health, part of the US Department of Health and Human Services, is providing $100,000 in grant funding to Danielle Parrish, a researcher at the University of Houston, to conduct a study of pregnant and at-risk teenage girls who are on probation in Houston, Texas. Dr. Parrish, an assistant professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work, noted that at least a third of the girls in a juvenile detention center that she visits frequently were visibly pregnant.
“As a mental health clinician in the juvenile justice system, I noticed there were stark differences in terms of what the females needed in their program and what the males needed. They are dealing with very different kinds of risks,” said Parrish. “I would find the females were engaging in multiple risk behaviors simultaneously – using drugs, drinking, smoking – even while pregnant – and seemed to participate more frequently in high-risk sex behaviors that put them at risk of pregnancy and STDs, including HIV. When I looked to the research, I found very limited information on gender-specific interventions for adolescent females in the juvenile justice system that addressed these unique risks.”
‘Choices – Teen: A Bundled Risk Reduction Intervention for Juvenile Justice Females’ is a study that will determine methods and best practices that will help young women avoid pregnancy. The results of this study will be used to guide further research in the development of prevention interventions with adolescent girls in the juvenile justice system, and will lay the groundwork for larger studies.
It’s probably not just the study itself that irks conservative bloggers, right-wing entertainers, and politicians so much, although they much prefer “abstinence education” and unrealistically think they can keep people from having sex. What’s attracted the attention of the right-wing clueless is one of the topics the study will be addressing: Condom Negotiation, as reported by the Washington Examiner.
Condom negotiation is one of the most damaging challenges for this population. Many young men don’t like to use condoms and young woman can be hesitant to push the issue. Frankly put, when at-risk young girls hear phrases such as “I want to feel you,” they have a harder time exercising good judgement and common sense than do older and more responsible women. This demographic does not feel empowered. To prepare the girls for these types of scenarios, counselors and pediatricians will teach them to negotiate condom usage with their sexual partners. The program will also counsel the girls on making healthier choices in regards to alcohol use, smoking, and prevention of unplanned pregnancy.
The University of Houston says that the goal is to determine if intervention programs will help at-risk teens make better choices and life decisions. Something as simple as being firm about insisting that their male sexual partners use condoms has the potential to make an incalculable difference in not only their own lives, but on society as a whole. Dr. Parrish intends to research this understudied demographic to assess the feasibility of prevention intervention in reducing high-risk behaviors that lead to HIV, nicotine and alcohol exposed pregnancies, and more. If effective, an intervention approach has the potential to reduce abortion rates, HIV and other STD infections, child abandonment, dependence on public assistance, poverty, and the health of children.
This pilot study includes 30 at-risk girls, aged 14-17, who are on intensive probation with the Harris County Juvenile Probation Department. While other interventions focus on one risk behavior at a time, a bundled approach addresses multiple risks simultaneously.
“A lot of these young women are dealing with issues of human trafficking, abuse, health issues, not having a stable place to live – there are a lot of issues we also need to address on a community and policy level,” said Parrish. “If we can learn more about them, and what those issues are, then maybe we can address things on a broader level as well.”
The University of Houston press release states:
“Parrish notes one of the big issues for this population of adolescent girls is condom negotiation. They may have a boyfriend who says it isn’t ‘cool’ to use a condom. To prepare the girls for these types of situations, the counselors and pediatricians will teach them how to negotiate condom use with their partner. The intervention also helps empower and motivate girls to make healthier choices regarding their alcohol use, smoking and prevention of unplanned pregnancy.”
The study has been praised by thought leaders in the at-risk youth academic community:
“Dr. Parrish’s research and grant award emphasize both the need for and importance of innovative approaches to problem-solving, especially when working with high-risk youth, in particular young women in the juvenile justice system,” said Ira Colby, dean of the University of Houston GCSW and the author of the research paper Runaway and Throwaway Youth: Time for Policy Changes and Public Responsibility.This award aligns with the UH Graduate College of Social Work’s mission and specifically connects advanced social work practice and research with the broader social services community.”
Critics of the program are saying that “old school techniques,” such as teaching kids to not have sex in the first place, will solve the huge societal problem of teen pregnancies and children being born into poverty. Of course, they simply label these young women as “sluts” and ignore the fact that in many cases they have a profound lack of education and home training.
College freshman dropout, Rush Limbaugh, weighed in on the study:
“How does what work? Women having the trump card? I don’t know how a condom negotiation works, Snerdley. You think I know about this? This is part of the New School effort. This woman is going to teach young women 14 to 17 about condom negotiation. Not gonna teach them to say no; not gonna teach them to say, ‘You know, you have no business here at 14 getting involved in this.’ We’re not gonna do anything that might actually be good for them. We’re gonna go ahead and indulge them in what they want to do because of course we can’t stop it.
“Kids are gonna have sex; we can’t stop that. Kids are gonna do dope; can’t stop there. I mean, they’re gonna smoke; we can stop that. They’re gonna eat; we can stop that. Maybe what this study ought to do is teach these 14-year-old girls not to have sex. Do you realize how old-fashioned that makes me sound? I’m just throwing the younger demographics away here, Snerdley. You know what my attitude ought to be on this? Fully support condom negotiation, learn what it is, conduct my own seminar on it on this program, and go out and get the young demographics. Go ahead and concede the fact 14-year-old girls are gonna have sex, just do it. The new slogan for the school: ‘Just do it, but learn condom negotiations.’
“It’s amazing me. No thought here. Government, National Institute of Health, no thought in suggesting that a 14 to 17-year-old maybe abstain? No, no. A hundred thousand dollars is going to be spent to teach teenage girls condom negotiation. Well, you know, when you start talking negotiation, you’ve got arbitration, you need a third-party mediator in something like this. I mean, when you start talking this kind of stuff…
“Condom negotiation: Where the rubber hits the road. That would be the title of the study that they’re working down in Houston.”
The program is based on the CHOICES prevention intervention program that was developed by Mary Velasquez, an associate dean of research and director at the Health Behavior Research and Training Institute (HBRT) at the University of Texas at Austin. CHOICES focuses on initial behavior change and maintenance of behavior over time. Velasquez’s research and the CHOICES program were recognized by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) with the Charles C. Shepard Science Award.
“Dr. Parrish’s study extends an award-winning behavior intervention for reducing alcohol-exposed pregnancies to the juvenile justice population,” said Velasquez. “Its emphasis on HIV prevention is innovative and critically important for these young women.”
$100,000 is a drop in the bucket when weighed against the benefits this study could potentially produce. I realize that to Republicans, it’s as simple as “teaching kids to not have sex.” Some kids, unfortunately, do not have solid adult role models or other adult guidance. Abstinence education is a solid tool to have in the arsenal that will help to solve the problem of teen pregnancy, but realistically, it doesn’t work by itself. Every facet of this issue must be explored and the University of Houston study will go a long way towards identifying best practices to alleviate this problem. Want reduced abortions? Less people on food stamps, TANF, and Medicaid? I think this $100,00 is a solid investment and a win/win that conservatives will never understand.