I have been on a training jag the last four weeks training health professionals and educators in the REAL Essentials Relationship Education curriculum going from Tennessee, Florida, DC, TX with the final stop attending a Teen Pregnancy Prevention Conference in New Orleans. Louisiana, the home of the world famous Muffuletta Sandwich any yummy, sugary Beignets.
The conference was attended by over 600 Federal grantees across the country who are attempting to help teens make healthy sexual choices. Optimal sexual health is the goal. What is optimal health? Healthcare professionals agree that health is not merely the absence from disease or infirmity, but that it includes life’s physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual aspects as well. To promote optimal health, we need to focus on the whole person, not just on an accumulation of body parts.
At this conference there was a diversity of strategies to reduce teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. This diversity could be outlined into two camps. There was the crowd that focuses on condoms and contraceptives because teens are going to have sex no matter what you say, and the sexual risk avoidance crowd with the philosophy of let’s teach young people life and love skills and have high behavioral expectations of school aged children to increase optimal health.
Included in this mix was the leadership of the United States Health and Human Services (HHS); Administration for Children and Families, Family and Youth Services Bureau. Dr. Diane Foley MD, whose specialty is in adolescent OBGYN, spoke, representing Health and Human Services.
Her message was clear. The focus of this administration is on primary prevention and optimal health. She outlined that young people are on a continuum regarding their sexual behaviors. Some are not having sex and are committed to that. Some are having sex. Some are experimenting with sexual identity issues and questioning. Some are being sexually abused, are in desperate situations and familial chaos. Some have been bounced around in child welfare and foster care for years. Dr. Foley’s admonition to all of us in the field was to meet that child wherever they are and help them get to optimal health incrementally. If they need risk and harm reduction in the form of condoms and contraceptives, by all means give them what they need (not in schools, but in a clinical medical one-on-one setting). She went on to encourage medical providers to always seek to do more to get high need and vulnerable youth to a risk avoidance and optimal health choice. Teach them relationship skills, operationalize healthy behaviors, increase the value of committed love and marriage as a pro-social stabilizer and the optimal incubator for human capital development. Talk about the success sequence regarding doing life in order, graduate from high school (college is a bonus), get a skill and a job, get married and then have children. Those who accomplish this success sequence have a 98 % chance of staying out of poverty. Let’s all work together to meet adolescents where they are and help them incrementally get to optimal health. For more information contact joneen@myrelationship
center.org or go to www.my
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