We’re Standing Strong with Youth and Science

Date: February 15th, 2018

Pat Paluzzi

Well, the news has broken, and the lawsuit has been filed. You can read the full press release for the details, but to sum it up, today, Healthy Teen Network joined with eight other organizations in the filing of four lawsuits challenging the Trump-Pence administration for unlawfully ending the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program (TPPP) grant agreements.

We have joined this lawsuit because despite the success of the TPPP, the Trump administration unlawfully terminated the program. And we cannot remain silent when attacks are made on young people’s right to access the education and services critical to leading healthy and fulfilling lives.

The teen births in the U.S. are at an all-time low, and that’s great news. We know a number of factors have contributed to this downward trend, including programs like the TPPP, which have ensured that more young people are receiving evidence-based, data-driven sexuality education and access to contraceptive resources. They know how to get the contraception when they need it, they know how to take care of themselves in situations, and they know how to say no to sex.

The TPPP, created in 2010, serves over 1.2 million people. From 2010 to 2016, teen birth rates dropped by 41%. That’s DOUBLE the decline in any other six-year period!

However, despite the downward trend in teen births, we still have  a lot of work to do: The U.S. teen birth rates are still the highest of all industrialized nations, about half of all new cases of STIs each year in the U.S. are in young people, and great disparities persist among racial/ethnic groups in this country. These facts support the need to elevate to scale what we know works and continue to innovate new methods and messages that reach our more vulnerable youth…which was of course, the intent of the TPPP.

We owe it to our young people to support this intent, that is to both rely on what we know works—the evidence—as well as to use that evidence to support research and development of new solutions—innovation—in the pursuit of continued access to quality sex ed and reproductive health services. (That’s also why we are launching the Center for Evidence and Innovation.)

Through TPPP, Healthy Teen Network was funded to develop and rigorously evaluate Pulse, an innovative tool to increase young women’ access to medically accurate, comprehensive, and confidential sexual health information. Pulse was adapted from another mobile web-based tool we developed, Crush, which has been rigorously evaluated and found to have positive behavior changes among 15-17 year old girls.

We took this evidence base from Crush and adapted it to fit older young women, ages 18-19, a group that has the highest teen birth rates and is often missed because they are no longer in school, where, theoretically, sex education is offered. Through a mobile website and text messaging program, Pulse puts the power of sexual health information in the hands of millions of girls through an informative youth-engaging mobile website.

The premature end to this project hampers the ability to complete the research study to determine the long-term effectiveness of the innovative Pulse tool. Innovation is a critical component of a comprehensive strategy to respond to the dynamic lives of adolescents and young adults. We cannot add to the breadth of evidence-based, proven effective models without adequate, multi-year funding for research studies to develop and test these innovations.

The TPPP has been building the evidence base for the entire field, and we have a great list of programs that work. Through this funding, the field has more knowledge about how to select evidence-based programs appropriate for a priority population, how to implement these programs appropriately in order to get the desired results. We’ve also learned that some of these programs don’t work as planned, and that testing has been happening, so we can learn more. We’ve also recognized that not all of these programs will reach all youth, and that innovations are necessary.

And that’s why the arbitrary termination of the TPPP is such a tremendous loss for the field, and more importantly, for our nation’s youth.

Healthy Teen Network is a national nonprofit organization. We’ve been around for forty years. We’ve built the capacity and provided resources and supports to the field, to those professionals and organizations who work to support teens and young adults, both helping them to make healthy decisions about their sexual health, and also supporting those who become pregnant, and may choose to parent.

The loss to our organization is severe, but more, our concern is the loss to the field, and for our young people.

The premature end of TPPP means that the public’s financial investment, the energy, the data, and the learning that have happened could all be lost. This is both a tragedy and a travesty.

We join in this lawsuit today because we think it is our duty to represent young people, to stand strong for young people, and to make sure that their ability to make healthy decisions remains in place.

We have the responsibility to continue to empower our young people with the best, proven-effective education and services available, as well as to develop and study new, innovative services that meet the dynamic needs of our nation’s youth. We have experienced incredible positive outcomes, thanks to proven-effective programs and services like the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program.

Science and research—not radical ideology—must guide the funding of programs and services.
Healthy Teen Network is standing strong with science and our nation’s young people. Will you stand strong with us?


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About the Author

Patricia Paluzzi, CNM, DrPH, President and CEO of Healthy Teen Network, has been active in the fields of reproductive, and maternal and child health for over 40 years, as a clinician, researcher, administrator, and advocate. Her clinical and content expertise spans the full scope of midwifery care, substance abuse, intimate partner violence, high-risk maternal child health (including pregnant teens), incorporating men into clinical services, and trauma-informed approaches.

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