State Issue Initiatives

Healthy Teens Oklahoma

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Oklahoma had the third highest (worst) teen birth rate in the nation for 15-19-year-olds in 2013, and the second highest for older teens, aged 18-19, the group that represents two-thirds of all teen births. Though our state’s teen birth numbers and rates have been declining since the peak in 1991, following the national trend, they have remained among the worst in the nation. Bottom line: other states have been focused on investing in prevention education programs, adolescent health services and community mobilization strategies that really work, thus have been getting better, faster.

 

Power Through Choices

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 a solution ready for replication.

 

Oklahoma Juvenile Justice Collaborative

The Oklahoma Juvenile Justice Collaborative formed in late 2013 to begin identifying programmatic and policy needs to improve outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system. Research has shown poverty, low educational performance, mental illness and substance abuse issues are all directly linked to increased involvement of youth with the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Studies also indicate a significant number of youth involved in the system are struggling with trauma associated with past abuse and neglect. All of these contributing factors are problems Oklahoma has long struggled to address and in which the state continues to rank among the worst in the nation.

The role of the Oklahoma Juvenile Justice Collaborative is to serve as a catalyst for positive change in the arena of juvenile justice reform. The collaborative reviews research, analyzes data and makes recommendations for sound policies that support best practices and evidence-based interventions. The group is responsible for developing and implementing a long-term, comprehensive strategy aimed at improving public safety, lowering recidivism rates and enabling children to become healthy, productive adults.

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