Power Through Choices is the first evidence-based curriculum tailored for the special needs, situations, and concerns of youth in systems of care and addresses the specific characteristics which may motivate these youth to become pregnant or engage in sexual risk-taking behavior.
- Intense need for affection
- Absence of a dependable family or social network
- Desire to have something of their own that they do not have to share
- Exposure to sexual abuse or violence
- Limited skills in identifying and securing resources, other than sex, to support themselves now and in the future
These characteristics tend to be magnified among youth in systems of care because of prior deprivation and/or social isolation, placing them at increased risk for sexual activity, pregnancy, HIV, and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). Although the exact rates of sexual activity, teen pregnancy, and births among youth in the foster care and juvenile justice systems are not known, research indicates that this population is far more sexually active than youth in general (U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, Office of Adolescent Health, 2016). Other research documents that young people in foster care are 2.5 times more likely to have a pregnancy by age 19 compared to those not in foster care, according to the “Midwest Evaluation of the Adult Functioning of Former Foster Youth” (Courtney, et al., 2011). Additionally, nearly half (46%) of teen girls in foster care who have been pregnant have had a subsequent pregnancy, compared to 20% of their peers outside the system (Bilaver & Courtney, 2006).
1st Edition (1995)
The original Power Through Choices curriculum was created in the mid-1990s by the Family Welfare Research Group in the School of Social Work at the University of California, Berkeley. The research team included Marla G. Becker, M.P.H.; Richard P. Barth, M.S.W., Ph.D.; Helen H. Cagampang, M.P.P., Ph.D.; and Ruth C. White, M.S.W., M.P.H.
The curriculum was based upon focus group work with youth in out-of-home care throughout California, interviews with staff working with foster youth, site visits, pilot testing, and a process evaluation of participant satisfaction. When the Power Through Choices curriculum was developed in the mid-1990s, it was the only adolescent pregnancy prevention program designed with and for youth in systems of care. Though participant feedback was positive, no rigorous evaluation had been conducted to document its effectiveness.
2nd Edition (2008-2010)
From 2008-2010, the curriculum was revised by a team from the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) and the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center as part of the Promoting Science-Based Approaches to Teen Pregnancy Prevention initiative coordinated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and included two additional sessions from the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy teen pregnancy prevention curriculum, My Life, My Choices: Session 3 – Reproductive Health Basics and Session 5 – Understanding STIs and HIV and How to Reduce Your Risk. Other revisions expanded the content, ensured medical accuracy, and more closely aligned the curriculum with the needs of the child welfare system and the youth they serve.
3rd Edition (2010-2017)
In 2010, the Power Through Choices Demonstration and Evaluation Project was selected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Administration on Children and Families (ACF) as an Innovative Strategies grant in the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP). The three-state research project was designed to test the efficacy of the recently updated and expanded curriculum. An interim evaluation report was released in December 2014, with promising results. The final impact evaluation report documenting outcome findings was released in the fall of 2016, showing strong evidence of effectiveness.
An independent evaluation was conducted by the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center, and Power Through Choices was one of seven projects selected as part of the large federal evaluation conducted by Mathematica Policy Research. Additional support for the Power Through Choices Demonstration and Evaluation project was provided by the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Evidence-Based Practice Group.
The success of the Power Through Choices program model was built upon the initial program design and core content created in 1995 by the original developers of the curriculum: Richard P. Barth, MSW, Ph.D.; Marla Becker, M.P.H.; Helen H. Cagampang, M.P.P., Ph.D.; and Ruth C. White, M.S.W., M.P.H. Their commitment to actively engaging young people themselves in designing and shaping the program’s content remained a commitment through the revision process led by Janene Fluhr, Shante Fenner, and Sharon Rodine. The commitment to ensuring the voices of youth inform the program’s implementation to ensure its relevance continues today.
4th Edition (2018)
In 2018, the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy transferred ownership of the Power Through Choices curriculum to Healthy Teen Network. Healthy Teen Network updated the curriculum, resulting in the 4th edition—making language more gender-inclusive, clarifying and streamlining instructions, adding activities and resources, ensuring that the content is medically accurate, and changing the layout of the manual.
Symbol of Empowerment
The empowerment of young people who participate in the Power Through Choices program is embodied by the logo; a powerful bird that symbolizes a spirit in nature that is associated in many cultures with strength, wisdom, knowledge, truth, courage, and freedom. The open wings represent rising above to a place where things can be seen with a wider, clearer vision, then moving forward with the strength and ability to protect and be protected.
The bird’s face is shaped like a heart, symbolizing the center of our emotions that guide our choices, decisions, actions, and relationships.
The color represents nature and a sense of growing, learning, and becoming.
Facilitators share this symbol with all the young people who participate in Power Through Choices, with the hope this symbol reminds them that, regardless of their life experiences up to this point, they have the potential to rise above and to soar… using the power that comes from making wise choices.
Relevant Life Skills Education
As the only teen pregnancy prevention curriculum originally designed with and for youth in systems of care, we ensured that the new Power Through Choices revision continued to be shaped by input from youth in care themselves, an important aspect that is unique to Power Through Choices.
Continuing to actively engage youth in our planning, implementation, and evaluation process has kept the curriculum authentic and relevant to the needs and realities of youth in systems of care today. Adolescent developmental stages haven’t changed, but society, technology, and teen culture are changing rapidly. Ensuring that youth in systems of care have a strong voice in identifying strategies for addressing their needs and retaining their involvement has been an important element in Power Through Choices’ success.
The Power Through Choices team is committed to meeting young people where they are, in an honest and respectful manner. In facilitating the curriculum, we focus first on building trusting relationships, understanding that these young people may have had few adults they could trust up to this point in their lives. Young people in systems of care have very few opportunities to discuss sexual health issues in a safe, caring, and confidential setting. Providing a safe and respectful environment, medically accurate information, and trauma-informed facilitation are central elements of our Power Through Choices approach.
What group home administrators say about Power Through Choices…
- “I absolutely love the program. I think all the information that is provided to these kids is stuff they think they know but don’t have a clue about. Very educational. They love it. I love it. I think that they gain a lot of insight about themselves and about the topic that is addressed.”
- “[The youth] love the groups. They love the fun activities that are brought to the table in a learning environment. They talk about it all the time.”
- “I think the best thing about Power Through Choices was being able to provide another area of support and education for the kids. The program reinforces the programming that we already have—thinking about responsibility and accountability in all aspects of your life.”
- “I can’t speak highly enough about Power Through Choices.”
What group home staff say about Power Through Choices…
- “A lot of the kids come here with kids already and they don’t even know half of how they even created that child. So it is productive, helping them realize how babies are made, but also what other issues come with having sex and how to prevent [pregnancy].”
- “I think it was very productive and the way the information was presented to the kids was on a level they could understand even though it was a lot of biological and different terms. They were able to clearly understand the information and it is something that they need to have.”
- “This is something these kids aren’t learning anywhere else. They get zero education on these subjects outside of this environment.”
- “I heard a lot more of the youth talking about being safe and getting tested for STIs.”
- “I think they [youth] are also gaining how to trust adults when they have issues, since there are adults presenting this information and they’re showing them—‘hey look, you can talk to somebody about it’ or whatever. You don’t have to be afraid to talk to somebody in authority or an adult or anything else. I think they are gaining that—which doesn’t have anything to do with sex education, just being able to trust adults better.”
What youth participants have said about Power Through Choices…
- “The best thing I learned from the program is that I am still a kid right now, and I probably want to be ready to raise a kid before I have one.”
- “It taught me a lot about STIs and how many are out there. Like the ones you can and can’t get treated. [Power Through Choices] wasn’t just all about learning—it was pretty fun too. I think it helped me a lot.”
- “Learning how to put on a condom and not getting pregnant was most important to me.”
- “Right away, I am going to get tested [for STIs]—you know, just to be sure.”
- “Very effective. It got me thinking. Because I have never protected myself before. I have never used any way of protection and now I will.”
- “I learned about the viruses and…anatomy and the birth control that is right for you…and if you don’t want to, you should be able to say no.”
- “There are more things that actually go on with my body than I thought was going on.”
- “This class was really helpful to me because sometimes I would think about making the wrong choice, but that’s what the group is about—you choose, I mean that’s why I’m in [here], I didn’t make the right choices.”