At the Region 9 PREP Coalition Meeting held May 15th at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Pomegranate Health Systems celebrated 3 years with the program. Dr. Karen Heiser, Vice President of Education, explained that PREP stands for personal responsibility education program, and the curriculum covers a comprehensive set of skills taught to trainers and direct staff working with foster care and incarcerated youth. PREP is an evidence-based curriculum focused on helping teens, age 14-19 transition into adulthood. The program is focused on reducing the risk of pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (including HIV/AIDS) and helping youth transition to living independently and taking responsibility for healthy relationships (family, dating, marriage), education and career as well as financial self-sufficiency.
Workshop topics in the curriculum cover nineteen sessions from avoiding high risk situations, preventing HIV/AIDS, using protection, financial literacy, career building, and questions/exercises designed to engage teens. In Region 9, Tammy Derden, Project Manager, Nationwide Children’s Hospital said 551 youth have been educated through PREP. There are 35 agencies in the region. Dana Dotson presented a video, Marvelyn’s story, http://youtu.be/TVgdcfVvf6U.
To illustrate the importance of one of the topics, Dr. Michael Brady, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Physician and Administrator of Infectious Disease, shared statistics on youth age 13-24 years of age. Most new HIV infections in the US involve gay and bisexual youth. There has been a 22% increase over the last 2 years; 60% of HIV-infected youth don’t know that they are infected. Youth are 17% of the US population, but account for 26% of all new HIV infections. It’s often discovered in girls being tested, who are pregnant. Some of the challenges that increase risk for transmission involve a low perception of risk, lack of protection, inadequate prevention education, multiple partners, and mental health issues.
Henry Lustig, the Ohio PREP Grant Administrator from the Ohio Department of Health explained that about 215 agencies have been trained statewide with about 800 staff trained and 2500 youth served. The statewide goal is 5600 youth. Dr. Brady said testing at least 1x (between age 16-18) is not currently part of most routine physicals, and ‘once infected we need to help them empower themselves’.
Though the program does have a unit on abstinence, the Youth Risk Behavior Survey reported that 43% of the general teen population had sex, but 84% of the PREP population had. Sue Williams of ODJFS Office of Families and Children reported that here in Ohio, there are 1300 kids in foster care on any given day. We know that nationally, ‘Foster care pregnancy rates are 2.5x higher than non-foster care rates; almost half of females in foster care are pregnant by age 19, and 50% of males aging out of foster care have impregnated someone by age 21 versus 19% not in care,’ she said.
Ohio’s Connecting the Dots program aims to: 1. prevent and reduce early pregnancy and parenthood; 2. Improve educational, employment & earnings outcomes; 3. Support foster youth’s transition to adulthood; 4. Facilitate effective cross-program strategies. PREP is a piece of the puzzle in a system of care. Increasingly, the state recognizes that care must extend past age 18 into the early 20’s to young adults in transition for which the ENGAGE program has been developed, led by OhioMHAS. There is a tremendous focus on making a difference in many young lives and giving them more than hope, but a real chance to become productive adults rather than ‘products of the system’. It’s great to be a part of that mission and help to advocate for change.
[Photo Credit: Karuma October 11, 2012, Abeja-003, Wikimedia Commons under Creative Commons License]