Monday, February 3, 2014

What's Next?

As you’ve probably already noticed, 2014 is a big year for the South Carolina Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Not only are we turning 20 this year, but we are beyond thrilled to be able to announce a 47% reduction in the state’s teen birth rate since our inception. This is an accomplishment that many once thought to be impossible – it’s a success story for the ages and a story that is going to be told over, and over, and over again during our 20th anniversary.

We’re early into 2014 so the sample size is small, but I’ve been struck by the number of people who are avoiding the “why such great progress?” question and instead focusing on “what’s next?” It’s a fair question and one that I find I am asking myself different iterations of constantly. What is next? Where do we go from here?  How does an agency, indeed an entire nation, build on this great success and use it as leverage for even more progress in the future?

In trying to come up with a coherent answer, I’ve come across two recent columns in the New York Times – one by Nicholas Kristof and the other by David Brooks.  The columns were remarkably similar in their addressing of family stability and expanding opportunity, respectively. (As an aside, both columns are well worth the time it will take you to read them). To my delight, both columns offered family planning/contraceptive access as a means to these ends. This is obviously something that we have been talking about in our office for years and something that for sure will be part of our organization’s strategic plan moving forward.

What also struck me was that each author presented contraceptive access as part of a larger plan, not THE plan. I think this point is instructive for our agency and for the entire field of teen pregnancy prevention. If we want to see continued progress we need to broaden our view of the world and understand the nuanced, complex solutions that are necessary to help children succeed. We need to acknowledge that issues like school-based sex education are essential, but not sufficient. We shouldn't allow ourselves to be completely distracted by petty arguments and political gamesmanship centering on what type of sex ed instruction young people should receive; rather, we should understand this is only a small piece of a much larger conversation. In Brooks’ words, we must “widen the debate.”

What do children need to succeed? The list is long. It includes access to contraception, and yes, even sex education. It also includes, among other things, improving the delivery of education (at all levels), ensuring that every child can identify caring adults in their lives, improving parenting skills, and creating a more well defined, accessible path to the future for our children – be that employment, college, etc. This requires us to expand our circle of friends and it requires us to update our talking points. When we see preventing teen pregnancy as a means to a greater end, it seems obvious to me that more people will be willing to join us at the table.

This is only the beginning of the conversation, one that we look forward to. I welcome your thoughts and input…

by Forrest Alton, CEO, SC Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy

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