Connecting Texas Youth in Foster Care to Sex Education

Screen Shot 2021 09 28 at 8.45.08 PMBy Alix Mammina, Communications Specialist at the Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing

As kids in Texas head back to school this fall, parents will have to keep an eye on their email inboxes—or the bottom of their kid’s backpack—to ensure their child receives sex education.

A newly passed state law now requires parents and guardians to opt kids into school-based sex education. Previously, students were automatically enrolled in sex education, and parents had the choice to opt children out of sex ed classes. Under this new legislation, school districts are burdened with the task of obtaining written parental consent for children to receive essential information about sexual and reproductive health.

Youth across Texas already face major barriers to receiving inclusive and medically accurate sex education. Until recently, state law did not require Texas public schools to teach sex education. A 2017 report from the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund found that 25% of Texas school districts did not teach sex education and 58% took an abstinence-only approach, withholding crucial information about pregnancy and STD prevention. Although the State Board of Education expanded sexual health curriculum standards in 2020, schools must still stress abstinence before addressing content on contraception.

The new opt-in policy further narrows access to critical health information, particularly for youth in foster care across the state. Youth whose caregivers miss signing a form—or those who change placements and schools frequently—will now have to clear another unnecessary hurdle to learning about sexual health and healthy relationships. 

“When we’re talking about youth in care, we know that they tend to be very mobile,” said Jennifer Biundo, Director of Policy and Data at the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. “Because education is often offered in a brief time period that varies from school to school, they might switch schools and miss sex ed. If they’re in a situation where they don’t have a very engaged guardian, that form might never get signed.”

At the Texas Campaign, Jennifer and her colleagues work to strengthen teen pregnancy prevention efforts through advocacy, research, and training across the state. Their team is now gearing up to help parents and school staff better understand the state’s updated health education curriculum standards and the new opt-in policy.

“We’re trying to spread awareness about this opt-in policy, because this is brand new,” Jennifer said. “A lot of people are just not aware of this. And if parents or guardians don’t know to look out for this permission slip that will be coming to them at some point and in some way, then they might miss it.”

As part of the Texas Is Ready Coalition, the Texas Campaign is creating resources for school district administrators implementing the new policy and hosting a series of webinars on the recent statutory changes. The team is also developing a social media campaign targeting parents and caregivers who are unaware of the new opt-in policy.

The Texas Campaign plans to launch messaging specific to youth in care and foster caregivers through the Texas Foster Youth Health Initiative and Collaborative for Youth in Care. “Because that population already has trouble accessing sexual health information and has higher rates of teen pregnancy, dating violence, and similar factors, they’re a population that we want to make sure has access to this information,” Jennifer said.

The Texas Campaign team hopes that their awareness campaign not only notifies adults of the policy change but also creates space for them to lead candid conversations with the youth in their care. Through our work together on the Texas Foster Youth Health Initiative, we know the importance of ensuring all youth have trusted adults in their lives who can help navigate relationships and sexuality. 

“It takes a village. We rely on schools to provide this medically accurate information, but having a trusted adult also provide that information or reinforce that message is huge,” Jennifer said.