Sex ed 

Grant reflects national shift

Enabled by a new federal grant, Planned Parenthood of Montana will be working more aggressively to curb teen pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections among high-risk youth beginning next fall.

Planned Parenthood of Montana announced last week it will receive $544,000 from a $75 million grant being allocated by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to implement sex education programs that, according to the agency, have been proven to reduce pregnancy rates.

In Montana, 1,700 women under 20 became pregnant in 2008. According to the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, children of mothers who give birth under the age of 17 are especially expensive for the state, drawing more than $3,000 annually from taxpayer funded resources, like child welfare and public health care programs.

"Teen pregnancy is a big problem in this country, and it's a huge problem in Montana," says Planned Parenthood Communication Director Beth Cogswell.

The grant reflects a shift in the federal government's approach. For years, HHS funded programs that promoted abstinence. Now, the Obama administration is funneling dollars toward programs that teach comprehensive sex education.

"It's a shift away from abstinence-only education, which has proven to not work," Cogswell says. "Definitely, it's a shift away from, 'Just say no to sex.'"

In Montana, Planned Parenthood is using its slice of the grant to implement the Teen Outreach Program (TOP). The program, used in communities across the country since 1978, takes a holistic approach, providing sex education in addition to a range of other curricula, including courses in communication and goal setting. TOP aims to bolster self-esteem, improve academic performance and engage teenagers with their communities, thereby eliminating the likelihood they'll engage in risky behavior.

"A big part of it is community service," says Planned Parenthood of Montana Outreach Educator Angel Nordquist.

The nonprofit will administer the program for four years as an elective in public high schools or as an after-school program in Missoula, Great Falls, Livingston, Helena and Belgrade.

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