Looking for Leaders: Grassroots Groups Push for Teen Pregnancy Prevention in Colorado

Lori Casillas

Policy change realized in Colorado's sex education law is due in large part to the efforts of grassroots communities demanding safety nets for our youth and communities.

Today is the National Day to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, as
perfect a time as ever to call on leaders in education, health, and politics to
stand up and affirm that effective and comprehensive reproductive health
services and education are integral to the healthy development of our youth.
Communities that have channels to address their fears, needs, and desires about
the most personal aspects of the youth among them must have leaders who help
start this conversation and assist with finding solutions to those concerns in
meaningful and sustainable ways.

In Colorado, inroads have been made for supporting the
reproductive health of our young people. Advocates have safeguarded
science-based comprehensive sex education in the state’s law.  Although this law is not a mandate, it does
require that if schools provide instruction on human sexuality, the content
must be comprehensive and science-based emphasizing both "abstinence and the
potential risks and benefits of condoms and contraception."  Like many new laws, the difference between
legal doctrine and actual implementation (e.g. compliance) remain a challenge
in some communities in the state.  However, this legislation has in fact made a
difference in many school districts that want to do the right thing – not only
for the sake of the law, but for the sake of the lives of the young people who need
fact-based information critical to their health and lives.  Furthermore, these laws support what the
majority of parents support – messages and education that emphasize both
delaying sex as well as complete information to allow sexually active youth to
remain safe and healthy and to prevent unplanned pregnancy.

Policy change like the changes realized in Colorado’s sex
education law happens due in great deal to the efforts of grassroots
communities demanding laws and safety-nets for our youth and communities.  But without the leadership of those who make
and influence policy, the uphill struggle would be much harder.  When it comes to reproductive health and
youth, it’s really hard to find those leaders. 
Elected leaders and educators are often jaded by the disrupting voices
of the few who object to giving young people access to accurate and complete
information about their sexual health. 
The "s" word causes great anxiety among people in positions of power and
they often retreat rather than vocally affirm what the majority of their
constituents and communities around them support.

The difference in sustainable community change can come from
having unapologetic leaders in all fields – including public health and
education – stand up for the reproductive health of youth and recognize
publicly that these issues are integral to the health and wellbeing of our youth.  These leaders have demonstrated that sexual
health for young people is not a wedge issue but is instead about promoting "whole
approaches" to young people and listening to the concerns, fears, and desires
of communities who wish to raise a generation of informed and healthy
children.  

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It’s alarming how often teen pregnancy prevention is left
out of the conversation related to reducing the achievement gap and improving
graduation rates.  With so much talk of
what research and science says about what works in education, educational
"experts" continue to leave out of the conversation what works to prevent early
pregnancy among our youth – a leading cause young women report for leaving high
school before graduation. 

I’m certainly not suggesting that these "grass-top" leaders
are the one and only answer for making the reproductive health of youth a part
of a community’s platform.  I would argue
that the solutions must come directly from communities.  What these leaders possess is the ability to
make policy, direct resources, and influence other "grass-tops" to make the
issue a public part of the conversation and move away from the idea that the
"s" word had nothing to do with young people or our communities.

State Representative Nancy Todd – Present!  She led the effort to pass House Bill 1292,
Colorado’s comprehensive science-based sex ed bill in 2007.  As a former educator, she saw firsthand, the
impact of unplanned pregnancy on the lives of students and the families she
worked with. This bill was a major accomplishment of her first term in office.   Representative Todd stood boldly behind her
bill as hundreds stood and watched heated debates over the bill during
committee hearings.  Representative Todd
also has been the legislative sponsor for two years in a row of Colorado
Organization on Adolescent Pregnancy, Parenting, and Prevention’s (COAPPP)
Youth Action Day at the Colorado Capitol where youth meet with their
legislators to discuss teen pregnancy and adolescent reproductive health.

Dr. Christine Nevin-Woods – Present!  As the Director of the Pueblo City-County
Health Department she has made teen pregnancy prevention a hallmark of the
public health priorities in the community of Pueblo, Colorado.  Along with her expertise and unrepentant
approach to ensuring that youth in her community are served through public
health programs, Dr. Nevin-Woods is a champion for effective ways to support
positive decision-making and access to sexuality education for Pueblo’s
youth.  As a Colorado State Board of
Health member, she also led the adoption of a teen pregnancy prevention
resolution this year by the Board of Health.

Leaders, today we’re calling on you to stand up and learn
about how the reproductive health of our youth impacts all aspects of their
lives.   You’ll see that there’s nothing
wedge about reproductive health of our youth and the majority of communities
who support positive and proven approaches to prevent teen pregnancy.  Are you on board?

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