Florida teen pregnancy task force says abstinence-only sex education is not enough

By | 12.19.11 | 3:14 pm

Pic via arcc-cdac.ca

Last month, the Northeast Florida Teen Pregnancy Task Force released a report outlining recommendations for dealing with the region’s persistent teen pregnancy problem.

The report (.pdf) was part of “a year-long process to identify strategies and community partners to address the high rate of teenage pregnancy, birth and repeat teen pregnancies in the region,” the group states.

Some of the findings in the study includes:

Sex education in school mostly focuses on abstinence, does not provide much information on birth control or STIs and doesn’t address the emotional aspect.

Research has shown that teens are more likely to use, and do better in, clinics that offer a comprehensive, interdisciplinary model of physical, behavioral, and reproductive health care that is explicitly designed to welcome adolescents and respond to their particular needs.

Results from listening tours within the Duval County Public Schools with teens who experienced multiple pregnancies and births also showed pregnancies occurred because the teens did not have access to birth control, did not use birth control because they believe it doesn’t work or used birth control but still became pregnant.

Representatives from several area school districts identified reported that they must follow the state statute that mandates abstinence-only education as the expected standard in health education… [and] they identified the influence of strong proponents of abstinence only education and conservative culture of the community, in addition to opt-in forms that are required for classes, as barriers to comprehensive education.

In the Northeast region of Florida (Baker, Clay, Duval, Nassau and St. Johns counties), teens “give birth at a higher rate than those statewide and nationwide,” the report found. According to numbers released this year in the 2011 KIDS COUNT Data Book, eight out of the 13 counties in Florida with the highest rates of teen pregnancy saw an increase in teen pregnancy from 2008 to 2009. Despite an overall decrease in teen pregnancy nationwide and statewide, over 60 percent of the counties in Florida with the highest birth rate among teens who are between the ages of 15 and 19 did not manage to decrease their rates in 2009.

The report also explains that the correct number of teen pregnancies is hard to calculate, considering how many of the pregnancies result in abortions or miscarriages.

According to the report:

Estimates by Guttmacher for Florida indicate that births represent about 55 percent of all pregnancies to teens age 15-19, with miscarriages and abortions comprising the remainder. Based on these estimates, the pregnancy rate in Northeast Florida in 2010 was 66.5 pregnancies per 1,000 females age 15-19 years old. Florida does not require that abortion providers include age when reporting abortions, so any state figures are based on the number of abortions among all women in the state and the proportion of abortions obtained by women of the same age nationally.

The report also compiled information collected during listening tours, during which teens were asked questions about the sex education they were receiving. The task force found that as a result of the limited scientific information provided by abstinence-only sex education programs, “many teens believe birth control does not work and are not taught safe sex practices.”

As I have reported, the state’s abstinence-only education programs place little emphasis on health-related information and instead focus mostly on things such as “goal setting” and “negotiating skills.”

Baker County, in particular, decided to adopt a very strict abstinence-only policy this year.  Each school district interprets the state’s sex education statute differently, which results in varied curricula.

“There are significant barriers, including state statute, that prevent the provision of comprehensive sex education through local school systems,” the Teen Pregnancy Task Force writes.

According to the group’s study:

Florida law states that in order for high school students to graduate, they must receive one-half credit in “life management skills” in either ninth or tenth grade. The course must include instruction in the prevention of HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), family life, the benefits of sexual abstinence and the consequences of teen pregnancy. It also states that these “descriptions for comprehensive health education shall not interfere with the local determination of appropriate curriculum which reflects local values and concerns.”

Florida standards, titled Sunshine State Standards for Health and Physical Fitness, do not mention instruction in HIV/AIDS, STIs or sexuality education. Parents or guardians may remove their children from any or all of sexuality education and/or STI/HIV education classes.

The task force also noted that there have been several attempts to create legislative changes to sex education policy in the state, but all have failed. In 2008, a state senator unsuccessfully introduced Florida Healthy Teens Act, a bill that “would have required public schools or third-party organizations receiving state funding to conduct comprehensive, medically-accurate, factual and age-appropriate sexual health programs,” the report says.

The groups suggests in the report that the state Legislature pass a bill similar to North Carolina’s Healthy Youth Act of 2009, which was lobbied for successfully by The Adolescent Pregnancy Prevention Campaign of North Carolina. The state statute mandates comprehensive sex education in schools.

Florida’s current Legislature has rejected funds for comprehensive sex education, while simultaneously accepting federal funds for abstinence-only education.

Advocates for comprehensive sex education here have long warned about the increase of STDs among young people. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a report last month that  found “even though young people aged 15–24 years represent only 25 percent of the sexually experienced population, they acquire nearly half of all new STDs.”

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