Research Inspiring Action: The Texas Foster Youth Health Initiative’s Innovative Approach to Sexual Education Programming & Practice

Research Inspiring Action: The Texas Foster Youth Health Initiative’s Innovative Approach To Sexual Education Programming & PracticeBy Barbara Ball Ph.D., LPC-AT

About 50% of females who experience foster care in the United States are pregnant by age 19 compared to 33% of females across the nation (Eastman, Palmer and Ahn, 2019). Despite disproportionately high pregnancy rates, there are limited interventions and community strategies to help reduce teen pregnancy among youth who experience foster care. Among youth in the child welfare system, over 40% of males and over 60% of females experience dating violence perpetration and victimization (verbal/psychological, physical, and sexual [Wekerle et al., 2009]). Current policies and practices limit access to vital sexual health information and skill development.

The Texas Foster Youth Health Initiative (TFYHI) is a real-life response to these statistics. Currently, the Initiative is working to create more accessible resources available for youth who experience foster care in Texas through a multi-layered approach. Starting in the summer of 2020, TFHYI aims to focus on prevention by working directly with youth, caregivers, and the organizations that serve youth in care.

This Initiative is a project that has brought together many experts across the state of Texas to collaborate in ways they never have before. The Texas Institute for Child & Family Wellbeing (TXICFW) at UT Austin, the Texas Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy (Texas Campaign), and the Texas Alliance for Child and Family Services (Alliance) are partners with statewide focus that have expertise in advocacy, training, research, evaluation, and collaboration. Healthy Futures of Texas (Rio Grande Valley and San Antonio), the North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens (ntarupt) (Dallas), and the Texas Campaign in collaboration with the Harris County Youth Collective (Houston) focus on providing culturally sensitive sexual health education in their respective communities. Together, these organizations represent both the child welfare and adolescent health systems, and include researchers, program developers, trainers, advocates, educators, and service providers that are committed to improving optimal health outcomes for youth in foster care.

Youth voice will also be taking a prominent role when shaping this multi-year project. Two consultant groups composed of young adults with lived experience in foster care and caregivers joined our network in January 2021 to help us center our work around the needs of youth and their caregivers. They will not only provide feedback on interventions, but will also have a direct role in developing communications strategies as well.

The Texas Foster Youth Health Initiative provides a unique opportunity to design interventions that engage youth and caregivers and to test them in the participating communities. All interventions will be reviewed by TFYHI staff and stakeholders to make sure they are medically accurate, age-appropriate, trauma-informed, and user-centered.

To learn more about TFYHI’s first six months, click here for a look at our July – December 2020 Community Report.