On any given day, there are 500,000 children and youth in the foster care system, according to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a national leader on child welfare issues. When these youth “age out” of the system they often do not possess the skills to thrive on their own.
Few public health, child welfare or juvenile services networks have addressed the critical need for relevant, high-quality, population-specific sexuality education for the youth in their care — many of whom are sexually active, have been victims of sexual abuse and whose life circumstances place them at high risk for STIs, teen pregnancy and sexual exploitation.
According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen & Unplanned Pregnancy, males and females in foster care are 2.5 times more likely to become pregnant or get someone pregnant than their non-system involved peers. Almost half of girls in foster care have been pregnant at least once by age 19 and nearly one-third have had at least one child before they reach age 20. When it comes to youth in foster care and the risk of unplanned pregnancy, the National Campaign states, “The statistics speak for themselves.”
The elevated risk has serious human and financial costs and consequences for the young people, their families and the child welfare and juvenile justice systems across our country. Helping these young people avoid STIs and unplanned pregnancy is a major public health, child welfare and juvenile services challenge that requires immediate attention and practical, effective solutions. Over the years, few resources have been identified to address this challenge effectively — with the exception of one curriculum, Power Through Choices (PTC). Designed with and for young people living in foster and other out-of-home care, PTC has demonstrated its effectiveness in meeting the specific needs of youth in the foster care and juvenile services systems through a rigorous evaluation conducted in multiple settings across the country. It is an evidence-based program ready for replication – a solution to address the sexual health needs of system-involved youth.
PTC’s Health Education Goals
The goal of the PTC curriculum is to provide system-involved youth with relevant information and skills to help them avoid risk-taking sexual behavior and reduce the incidence of adolescent pregnancy, HIV and other STIs. Curriculum objectives focus on enabling program participants to:
- Make healthy, positive choices related to sexual behavior.
- Build condom and contraceptive knowledge and skills.
- Develop and practice effective communication skills.
- Learn how to access available resources.
The revised curriculum, Power Through Choices: My Life, My Choices (2nd Edition), was part of an extensive federal evaluation conducted with support from the HHS Administration on Children and Families. The curriculum revisions expanded and strengthened the adolescent development, reproductive health education and skill-building content. The program was updated with direct input from youth living in foster and juvenile services congregate care settings, ensuring the new content continued to address the realities of their lives.