For 40 years, Youth Catalytics’ sole mission has been to improve the well-being of vulnerable young people. Almost always, that’s involved strengthening organizations in direct contact with youth — schools, foster care systems, mentoring programs, homeless shelters, jobs programs, juvenile justice services. These settings differ in important ways, but in a fundamental sense, they’re all attempting to do the same thing: give disadvantaged young people the chance for a better future.
In our work, we’ve developed deep expertise in youth homelessness, adolescent brain development, trauma-informed care, and social-emotional well-being. In the last five years, we’ve come to specialize in another area as well: teen pregnancy prevention.
That’s why we’re so pleased to announce that, this summer, we were awarded a grant by the federal Office of Adolescent Health to help teen pregnancy prevention programs improve the way they communicate with local communities, families, researchers and funders. We join four other organizations — Children’s Hospital of Los Angeles, the University of Massachusetts/Donahue Institute, EngenderHealth, and the University of Michigan/Adolescent Health Initiative — in growing the overall capacity of these programs, helping them be more efficient and effective.
Individually and as a group, we will be supporting 84 organizations around the country working with 1.2 million youth in a wide array of settings, including elementary, middle and high schools, alternative schools, college, after-school programs, teen health clinics, and foster care and juvenile detention systems. Together these organizations are implementing 27 different evidence-based pregnancy prevention programs. Twenty-four organizations are rigorously testing new approaches, and two are developing entirely new programs.
Why is this work important? In 2010-2014, OAH’s very first cohort of pregnancy prevention grantees delivered services to almost 500,000 young people. (Youth Catalytics was among that cohort, leading delivery of the Teen Outreach Program® to high-risk foster care youth in Connecticut.) In those five years, the national teen pregnancy rate fell by 29%. Were these programs alone responsible for that impressive drop? Probably not. But they certainly helped. By funding only programs that actually work, and aiming them narrowly at the subpopulations of youth most at risk of early pregnancy, OAH has created a culture of scientific legitimacy around sexuality education, taking it out of the realm of morality and into the realm of public health. And that’s been good for youth, their families and their communities.
Simply put, these programs matter. Because they’re important, helping programs operate with fidelity, establish community support, communicate their successes to others, and sustain themselves when the project is over is important, too. That’s what our work is about. We can’t wait to get started.