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County approves Abstinence-only education grant
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Abstinence-only-until-marriage education - or any kind of sex education - for children, teenagers and young adults is always a sensitive subject.

"Even parents are uncomfortable talking to their kids about sex," said Angie Sims, Newton County juvenile court administrator.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 47 percent of high school students engaged in sexual intercourse in 2005, and that 14 percent of those had four or more partners in their life.

For the fifth consecutive year, the Newton County Board of Commissioners approved the acceptance of a grant administered in Georgia by the Children and Youth Coordinating Council for the county's juvenile court R.E.A.C.H. (Redirecting and Educating on Abstinence, Choices and Healthy Living) Program, which emphasizes premarital abstinence as society's expected standard.

 The CYCC issues the grants in three month increments. The most recent grant awarded to the county's juvenile court system totaled $7,343 from the CYCC and $2,937 in county matching funds.

An Internet search of the issue yields thousands of case studies, journal articles and down-right rants about the efficacy of this type of sexual education both supporting and criticizing programs focusing on abstinence, especially ones receiving federal funds for operation.

The R.E.A.C.H. Program

Sims explained how after a thorough screening process judges refer youthful offenders, between the ages of 10 and 17, to the R.E.A.C.H. Program if they have not been charged previously with drug, violent, sexual or weapons offenses.

The program serves approximately 40 teens a year - usually 10 in the seven-week summer session and 15 in the 18-week fall and spring sessions. Parents attend sessions on most of the days their children do for nurturing classes, and Family Adventure Days aim to build alliance, trust and communication among participants.

For one day a week (two in the summer) the youth meet for group sessions where they discuss life skills, healthy habits, academic tutoring and abstinence education. Abstinence-only education for the program comes from WAIT training curricula, which stresses the risk and consequences associated with sexual activity.

Employees from the Newton County Health Department can discuss rates of sexually transmitted diseases in the county, the failure rates of contraceptives and the psychological effects of teens who have sex.

"They're having to deal with a whole set of issues that a child who is not having sex doesn't have to deal with," Sims said.

Wonda Cook, founder and CEO of the local female teen mentoring organization Ladybugs Inc., does discuss safe sex practices with members, but agreed with Sims that sex can have negative effects on teens.

"I try to help them understand that being sexually active is a lot more than just that," Cook said. "There's a lot more to it with emotions and gossip at school and just a lot of other things."

She said abstinence-only education is not her focus, however, because she said she feels some of them are already sexually active.

Sims said although the R.E.A.C.H. Program may not keep teens from having sex, it does seem to decrease rates of recidivism, or repeat offenses.

In 2006, 49 teens completed the program for a completion rate of 94 percent. In the most recent year of the program 6.8 percent of graduates have been charged with minor offenses.

Out of the graduates of the program in its first year in 2003, 16 been charged again with offenses such as shoplifting, battery, trespassing or marijuana possession.

The average time of a participant to become a recidivist was 17.5 months.


"There's a lot of research out there supporting abstinence-only education," Sims said.

In July, the Georgia Department of Human Resources, Division of Public Health, Office of Adolescent Health and Youth Development reported a 7 percent decline in pregnancy rates among girls aged 15 to 17 in 2005.

This decline exceeded the national average by four percent.

Percentages of teen mothers who had a repeat birth also decreased by nine percentage points in Newton County from 2000 to 2005.

The Georgia OAYD credited the decrease to implementation of programs which encourage parent involvement, educational and youth support programs and other teen pregnancy interventions delaying sexual activity.

Pregnancy prevention programs such as R.E.A.C.H. also emphasize positive attitudes, healthy habits and activities and work toward reducing other risk-taking behaviors such as violence, substance abuse and disinterest in education.


While teen pregnancies have decreased in Georgia and Newton County, the number of premature and low-birth weight babies born to teen mothers has increased.

In 2000, 12.2 percent of pregnant teens in Newton County gave birth to premature children and 9.4 percent had babies of low-birth weight; in 2005, 13.5 percent were premature and 10.4 had a low birth weight.

Perhaps the most startling statistics reported by the CDC and East Metro Health District are increased rates of HIV and STD contraction among teens.

For youth ages 15 to 24 in the United States, new cases of HIV infection jumped from 4,194 in 2000 to 5,089 in 2005.

Some research suggests the factors such as drugs increasing chances of survival have made the disease seem less threatening to young people.

According to OASIS, an Internet search tool operated by the Georgia Department of Human Resources, Division of Public Health, Office of Health Information and Policy, 90.6 percent of high school students reported being taught about AIDS or HIV infection in school in 2007.

This percentage is down from 2003 when 93.6 percent of high school students reported learning about the infection in school.

Also, black and Hispanic students reported being taught about AIDS and HIV less than white students in both years. Only 80.3 percent of Hispanic high school students said they learned about the disease this year - down 9.5 percentage points from 2003.

A 2006 School Health Policies and Programs Study, which is conducted periodically to assess school health education, found 86.6 percent of high school students reported learning about abstinence as the most effective measure in preventing pregnancy and STD infection.

Only 58.1 percent of those same students reported learning about methods of contraception.

In Newton County, rates of new Chlamydia cases have jumped from 153 in 2000 to 394 in 2006.

Furthermore, a University of Virginia study looked at data on 534 same-sex twin pairs. One twin in each of the pairs had sex, on average, two years before their sibling.

The findings published on the online edition of the Journal of Youth and Adolescence concluded the twins who had sexual experiences first had lower levels of delinquency and antisocial behavior a few years later.


Federal funding for abstinence-only-until marriage programs began when conservative President Ronald Reagan was in the White House.

The Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States (SIECUS) provides a brief overview of the history of government funding of abstinence education on their Web site.

Between 1996 and 2006, Congress dedicated more than $1.5 billion to abstinence-only programs.

The federal government has allocated $176 million for fiscal year 2007, and President George W. Bush has proposed bumping the funding to $204 million in 2008.

In 1981, The Adolescent Family Life Act (ALFA), or Title XX of the Public Health Service Act, became law without hearings or floor votes. The act provided support for pregnant teens and those who were parents as well as promoted "chastity" and "self-discipline."

Title V, Section 510(b) of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Act (TANF), also known as welfare reform, established a concrete definition for abstinence education.

Programs must strictly follow the tenets of the definition to receive funding.

Every year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services allocates $50 million to the states. States accepting funding must match every four federal dollars with three state dollars.

Nine states currently do not accept Title V funding, and California has never accepted it.

Starting this Fiscal Year, Title V-funded programs had to focus on youth 12-29 years old.

The National Center for Health Statistics reports more than 90 percent of people ages 20 to 29 have had sexual intercourse.

In 2000, Congress created grant funding for Community-Based Abstinence Education (CBAE, formerly Special Projects of Regional and National Significance-Community-Based Abstinence Education).

CBAE grants are awarded directly to organizations from the Administration for Children and Families of the Department of Health and Human Services, and do not require state approval.

From Fiscal Year 2001 to Fiscal Year 2007 CBAE funding increased by $93 million to $113 million. President Bush proposed increasing it in Fiscal Year 2008 to $141 million.

Other avenues

Many school systems teach sex education in middle and high schools as part of health classes.

"In Newton County, high school curriculum addresses sex education on a general level in health classes," said Kathy Reese, Newton County School System director of high school and vocational curriculum.

Reese said while abstinence is discussed as the only full-proof way to prevent pregnancy and STD infection, it is not the sole focus of the classes.

"Facts are presented," Reese said.

The Newton County Health Department also gives teenagers information about contraceptives and services related to pregnancy and pregnancy testing, according to Vernon Goins, director of public relations for the East Metro Health District.

"If they're age of consent then we do have to give them the same information we give to our adults," Goins said.

The age of consent in Georgia is 16.


Abstinence-only-until-marriage stands as an extremely controversial issue which will likely be hotly debated in Congress, other governmental bodies and universities for decades to come.

The Responsible Education About Life (REAL) Act was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and in the Senate in 2005, but never made it any further than introduction.

The REAL Act proposed funding for comprehensive sex education.

One of the most recent studies released by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy details the findings of Douglas Kirby, a leading sexual health researcher.

"Emerging Answers 2007" looked at 48 programs that supported abstinence as well as safe sex methods; two-thirds showed positive behavioral effects.

Page 15 of the report states, "over 40 percent of the programs delayed the initiation of sex, reduced the number of sexual partners and increased condom or contraceptive use; almost 30 percent reduced the frequency of sex (including a return to abstinence); and more than 60 percent reduced unprotected sex."

Kirby's report also concluded there is compelling evidence supporting the idea that abstinence-only programs have no effect on teen sexual behavior.