Spotlight on Relationship Violence

Although dating violence is nothing new, it’s gotten a lot of attention lately. And that’s a good thing. Recent estimates from the National Council on Crime and Delinquency Focus state that one in three adolescent girls in the U.S. is a victim of physical, emotional or verbal abuse from a dating partner. That’s a pretty scary figure – a figure that far exceeds victimization rates for other types of violence affecting youth. And some very compelling research coming out of the University of California, Davis looks at the way that reproductive coercion is used as a form of abuse. Dr. Elizabeth Miller, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University, has found that sabotaging birth control, forcing unprotected sex, or forcing abortion is more common that we knew before and was routinely underreported. She has been advocating for better screening practices at clinics and other agencies where young women might turn for care after such events.

At the end of February 2010, a group of professionals from several agencies gathered in Washington, DC to discuss ways we can all work together to prevent teen relationship violence. Representatives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Robert Woods Johnson Foundation, the Family Violence Prevention Fund, U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Violence Against Women, and MTV gathered to talk about what they’re doing and what tools are available to help increase prevention efforts in this area. Below are some resources you can use.

Raising Awareness About STIs and HIV

April is STI Awareness Month. Sexually transmitted infections, including HIV/AIDS, affect about 9 million young people in this country. In fact, sexually active youth are the group with the highest rate of infection from STIs. Why are young people so disproportionately affected by STIs? For one, they tend to have unprotected sex when they have sex. That’s something we’re trying to change, by promoting comprehensive sex education and awareness, and provision of clinical services. Another reason is that younger people tend not to be in monogamous relationships as often as older adults. In addition to educating sexually active teens about condom usage and birth control, it’s important that we also educate them about the consequences of having multiple sexual partners.

One of the many key ways that we, as public health professionals, can help raise awareness of STI and HIV prevention is to advocate for medical staff (doctors and nurses) to include discussion about STI prevention, diagnosis and treatment with teens at their regular medical appointments. According to the American Social Health Association, the majority of doctors don’t even mention STIs to their adolescent patients. As a result, only 14% of men and 8% of women think they are even at risk for contracting an STI. Increasing doctor-patient communication surrounding STIs can not only help reduce the associated stigma, it can also go a long way toward making teens (and adults) aware of the risks and consequences of having unprotected sex.

We encourage you to create a campaign next month to raise awareness in your community about STIs and youth. Talking about it in classrooms, having a poster contest, creating a PSA for your local radio or TV station, or working with your local medical association to promote doctor involvement in the campaign are all good ways to get people talking—and thinking—about prevention STIs and HIV.

Here are some resources you can use in April. This list is by no means inclusive of all the great resources that are out there, so please explore the Internet, your local health department, and other community resources for materials that will work best for your population.

What Can TeenNow California Do For You?

TeenNow California, formerly the California Alliance Concerned with School Age Parenting and Pregnancy Prevention (CACSAP), has been providing support and services to people who work in teen parent programs and teen pregnancy prevention for almost 40 years. (Our 40-year anniversary is in 2011!) During that time, we’ve conducted trainings, put on conferences, helped with advocacy issues, and provided resources and guidance to our members and others in the field. We’ve recently expanded some of our services, and changed some others. While there are some services and programs that are open only to members, others are available to everyone involved in working with adolescents.

As agencies and other organizations begin to prepare for the new Federal funding, TeenNow California is here to help. We can work with agencies on finding a suitable evidence-based curriculum to use, and we even have a lending library (one of the features available only to members) of some select curricula. Members can check out up to two curricula at a time, browse through the materials, and return them to us. This lets you take a thorough look at the curricula before purchasing it, and helps you make sure that it really meets the needs of your population. In addition, we can provide information and advice on curriculum selection to anyone, member or not, who is planning on applying for this money.

We also provide training and technical assistance one-on-one to agencies working with adolescent reproductive health. From program development to evaluation, and all the steps in between, TeenNow California staff and partners can help you make sure that your program is run in the most effective way possible. In addition to on-site technical assistance, we offer trainings on demand so you can provide your staff, coalition, or school district with targeted training to meet your professional development needs.

Our web site is a clearinghouse of information, from updates from top researchers in the field to legislative tracking. We provide links to resources, we create materials to help you in your work, and we serve as a source of information so you can keep up-to-date on the issues that affect your work and the youth you serve. We send out an e-newsletter every month that contains in-depth information on new opportunities, policy issues, event listings and featured articles, and also have a weekly e-blast that provides timely information in a shorter format than the monthly newsletter. and, we have a presence on Facebook and Twitter to keep you updated constantly

The annual conference continues to rate among the top conferences in California for this field. Every year we provide compelling keynote speakers, panels, timely and relevant workshops, and a great opportunity to network with colleagues and old friends. This year we recognize that the economy and the state of California’s budget has taken a toll on people’s ability to travel, so we are offering two separate conferences, one in Northern California (Sacramento) and one in Southern California (San Bernardino). We’re finalizing the dates now and will be announcing them in the coming weeks.

We also advocate for teen parent programs and teen pregnancy prevention programs. We organize our members, we form groups to create strategies, and we provide information and resources that people can use in their own advocacy efforts. TeenNow California (then CACSAP) was instrumental in the creation of the California School Age Families Education (Cal-SAFE) program, and has been working hard to ensure that the program survives the current budget crisis. We also worked on the effort to preserve Community Challenge Grant (CCG) funding when it was eliminated from the budget—and working together with leaders from around the state, we were able to get the funding put back in.

And of course we’re always looking for new ways to provide value to the field of teen parenting and pregnancy prevention. We know that agencies don’t have a lot of resources for professional development, and we know that professional development is a key component of workplace satisfaction and employee retention. We want to keep the dedicated women and men in this field here, in this field, so they can continue to provide valuable services to California’s teens. Because of this, we aim to create more professional development opportunities that agencies, schools and individuals can take advantage of to improve the skills and morale of staff.

So come grow with us, and get involved in TeenNow California. Whether you want to become a member, present a workshop at our conference, schedule an on-demand training, or take advantage of any of our other services, we’re here for you.

Getting Family Involved in Sex Education

I read a great article today on how grandparents can be involved in the sex education of their grandchildren. The author talks about how, even if parents are talking to their kids about sex (and many, unfortunately, still don’t), grandparents have a role to play. She says that while parents have to discipline their children, grandparents are free to offer only love and acceptance, making the conversation about sex feel safer and more open than it might with one’s parents. Certainly, however, if parents aren’t often prepared to have “the talk” with their children, it’s likely that grandparents aren’t either—they’re probably the ones who were involved in the lack of sex education of their own children! However, you may find that grandparents are more interested in learning how to talk to their grandchildren about sex than you might think. The author of the article held a training for grandparents at a luncheon club, and while some members of the club boycotted the talk, there were a fair number of people who came. This makes me think that maybe extended families—grandparents, aunts, uncles and so on—might also be good avenues for teaching kids about sexuality. Hearing the message that it’s important to take care of yourself, respect your body and others’, and that human sexuality is a normal, healthy thing from multiple sources and at regular intervals can only be a good thing for teens—and for those who fear that talking about healthy sexuality would be condoning sex among young people (which it isn’t), remember, sexuality doesn’t mean just sex. It’s teaching young people about their bodies, how they work, and how to take care of them, whether or not the young person is having sex. It’s also talking openly about the pressures that young people face, and providing them with the tools they need to make the best decisions for themselves.

Studies have shown again and again that when adults communicate openly, honestly and accurately about sex and sexuality, children respond. When parents are clear about their values regarding sex (and/or unprotected sex), children pick up on those messages and are more likely to behave in the desired way. Parental closeness with their children is even more important in preventing teen pregnancy, and closeness is predicated by communication. 

So if you’re a parent, or a grandparent, or a godparent, or someone who cares about a young person, start talking now. If you don’t know how, find out—there are many programs in California designed to help adults communicate with teens about sexuality. If you need help finding one, drop us a line at, or respond to this blog.

New Study Shows that Free Contraception Can Cut Abortion Rate in Half

The results of this study are really just a confirmation of what we already know: That providing services, options and information to people about contraception can reduce unintended pregnancy, and thus reduce the number of abortions. A research team in Norway looked at four cities there. In two of those cities, the researchers offered women between the ages of 20 and 24 free contraceptives for one year–in the other two cities they did not. Although free contraception didn’t necessarily increase the percentage of women who used contraception (93%), it did increase the consistency of use. Women who received free contraception of their choice (pills, injections, contraceptive patches, vaginal rings, IUDs, implants, hormone spirals and copper spirals were offered) were more likely to use their method of choice more consistently than women who had to purchase their own contraception, and also reported being happier with the method they were using when they could choose whatever they wanted without consideration of price. More consistent contraceptive use means fewer unintended pregnancies, and the two cities that were getting this service saw their abortion rate decline by 50% in the year of the study.

While it’s hard to imagine the US offering free contraception anytime in the immediate future (can you visualize the exploding heads all over Washington, D.C.?), maybe it’s time to consider this as an option. If our real goal is to reduce unintended pregnancy and abortion, expanding (or creating, in some states) a free contraception program seems not only logical but imperative. Of course, this is only one study, but I feel sure that the results could easily be replicated elsewhere. Maybe conducting more studies like this, then, would be a good next step.

FREE Webinar on Getting Ready for the Federal Teen Pregnancy Prevention Funding

TeenNow California is hosting a free webinar on Monday, March 22nd at 1PM PST for people interested in finding out more about the new funding expected from the Federal government. We’ll provide an overview of the funding that’s expected, share some information we’ve gleaned about what we think the RFA might contain, and also present useful tips on how to prepare a strong Federal grant application. Don’t miss this great opportunity–space is limited! To register, send an e-mail stating that you would like to join the webinar to

What a Mess We’re In

The California budget crisis has been raging for almost two years now. It seems to me that the effort to preserve funding for critical programs has been never-ending, and it’s getting harder all the time. The legislature and the Governor have slashed and burned so many important programs, from our teen parent programs and teen pregnancy prevention programs, to HIV/STI programs, education, health (and safety net services)… the list goes on and on. How much more can we take?

The irony is that many of these programs, although they do cost money in the short term, actually SAVE money in the long run. By helping teens stay in school, educating them about risk reduction, health and safety, and making sure that children of school age parents have access to early care and education to spur their development, we reduce the number of high-school dropouts, the Cal-WORKS caseload, and the burden of clinics who provide services related to teen pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections . At the same time we’re increasing the number of qualified workers in the state, improving health outcomes of children (which in turn saves the State money on medical care), and helps to break the cycle of poverty. Anyone with a long-term interest in the health and well-being of Californians should understand that even in troubled times such as these, programs such as the ones we represent can’t be eliminated.

There are those in politics who feel that our budget crisis should be handled by making cuts to programs, and not increasing our revenue at all. They feel that it’s “only fair” that their taxes not be raised and their businesses not have to pay. First, this is erroneous thinking. It’s not fair to expect the burden of the financial solution to fall solely on the heads of young people and the elderly, or on people who rely on public services. They didn’t make this mess–the irresponsibility of the banking and mortgage industries are just two examples of some of the many sectors who are really to blame for what’s happened here. Second, it’s naive to think that eliminating after-school programs, health education, daycare, or intervention programs touches only the people who use these services. When the quality of life of a group of people—no matter how disparate—suffers, that suffering reaches beyond the boundaries of that specific population. Cuts to education, for example, don’t hurt only families that have children; when school programs are cut it means that young people aren’t as well-trained or prepared to participate meaningfully in society. Businesses have fewer qualified candidates for jobs, technology firms fall behind for lack of skilled workers, and those who would prefer to be gainfully employed can’t find work and must rely on public assistance. These effects will all be the fallout from our legislators’ current slash and burn attitudes.

Yes, I know we’re in a bind, and yes, I know that whatever solution we come up with to get out of this mess won’t be pretty. But let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater—instead, let’s work together to find a solution that works for ALL Californians, not just the rich and powerful.