The Department of Health and Human Services has announced $155 million in funding going to teen pregnancy prevention programs that incorporate models that have been proven effective. $100 million comes from the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, and $55 million from the Personal Responsibility Education Program, which is funded under the Affordable Care Act.
The majority of funding from both sources will go to programs replicating program models that have been proven effective under rigorous analysis, with a small amount going to programs developing innovative new models. The PREP grants are going to 46 states that applied for the grants, and must be used to fund programs that teach both abstinence and contraception as well as at least one other life skill, such as relationships, communicating with parents, handling money responsibly. (This includes the District of Columbia.)
Some of the most effective programs deal with more than sex education, and take a whole child approach that includes help with school work, setting life goals, taking part in extra-curricular activities, and forming rewarding relationships. Over time professionals have realized that sex often fills a void in young people’s lives, and that filling this void with other activities and goals can be helpful when joined to education about sexuality.
This announcement marks a shift in policy. During the past decade, government funding was used only for abstinence-only-before-marriage education programs. Evaluations of such programs found that they made no significant change over time in teens’ attitudes towards becoming sexually active, and ignored those teens who had already become sexually active who might have been able to change their behavior. In addition, teens who went through these programs were less likely than those who did not to consider using contraception when they did become active. A negative view of contraception seems related to the emphasis these programs put on contraception often being ineffective in stopping pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. This could actually lead to greater risk of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. Yet after these results were published, even more funding went to these programs.
There still will be $50 million in annual state grants for abstinence-only programs, in which the states must match $3 of every $4 from the federal government. However, many abstinence-only programs will likely lose millions of dollars in government funding. The abstinence-only movement is not happy with this announcement.
This reflects not only a change in policy towards sexuality education, but also the Obama administration change towards science. It also illustrates the administration’s stand on basing healthcare spending on scientific evidence rather than ideology, while reserving some funding for innovation and new research. It is encouraging to see funds from the Affordable Care Act used for such an important cause.