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 Step by Step: Growing Comprehensive State Adolescent Sexual Health and Teen Dating Programming

By The Adolescent Health Program Team
Section of Women’s, Children’s & Family Health, Division of Public Health, Alaska Department of Health and Social Services

The Adolescent Health Program seeks to promote positive youth development1 and reduce negative health outcomes among Alaska youth. Our projects focus on promoting healthy relationships by eliminating unequal and unhealthy relationships; promoting overall adolescent health and well-being; avoiding early initiation of sexual activity and unintended teen pregnancy; and encouraging family, school and community involvement in the lives of youth.

Researchers found that effective sexual health programs convey a clear message: that choosing to not have sex and that using contraception consistently and correctly, and carefully when choosing to be sexually active are both effective in avoiding unintended pregnancy. Other characteristics of effective programs include: addressing peer pressure, teaching communication skills, providing strong leaders, actively engaging participants and ensuring the program reflects the age, sexual experience and culture of the young people participating. The best way for a community to select an effective program is to choose one that has positive evidence-based results with a similar group of teens that suits both local values and budgets, and then implement that program as it was designed, without changes.2

Currently, we focus our work in three areas: traditional schools, alternative schools and community programs. The Fourth R for Healthy Relationships Program, funded through a federal Personal Responsibility Education Program, is a collaborative project with the Department of Education and Early Development, the Alaska Network on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, the Council on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, and the Alaska Division of Public Health Section of Women’s, Children’s and Family Health. Together we provide training and curriculum materials for schools throughout Alaska to implement an evidence-based healthy relationships curriculum adapted for use in Alaska. The Fourth R Program, for grades seven through nine, strives to reduce violence, dating violence, substance abuse and other adolescent risk behaviors through skills-based techniques and role play focusing on negotiation, delay, and refusal skill development.3

In 2010, the Alaska Adolescent Health Program began a five-year research project with the Alaska Youth Advocates, Cook Inlet Tribal Council, Kachemak Bay Family Planning Clinic, Tundra Women’s Coalition, and the University of Alaska Anchorage Institute of Social and Economic Research, called Alaska Promoting Health Among Teens (AKPHAT). AKPHAT teaches abstinence education with negotiation, refusal skills and role play, the benefits of delaying sexual onset, and comprehensive sexuality education. The curriculum is intended to empower both the peer educators who implement the program and the program participants to make healthy and positive decisions about their sexual health.

Our Adolescent Health Program works with young people to inform our program with assistance from the Division of Public Assistance and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. With their collaboration we bring youth voice to the table for every youth-focused program we initiate.

We collaborate with other programs which aim to empower youth, give youth a voice and provide a comprehensive lens to their resources, including the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium Division of Community Health, who offers online resources for teenagers and parents, such as iknowmine.org, and the Network of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault standupspeakupalaska.org program.

In the future, we wish to begin our statewide Adolescent Health strategic planning, much like Colorado 9to25 and the Office of Adolescent Health National Strategic Plan. We seek to always include youth as change agents, incorporate youth voice and breakdown the silos that can limit traditional prevention and intervention activities. Our vision is to develop and implement plans for overall adolescent health and for youth populations targeted by programs.

1 findyouthinfo.gov/youth-topics/positive-youth-development
2 Kirby D. Emerging Answers: Research Findings on Programs To Reduce Teen Pregnancy. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy.
3 youthrelationships.org/