hey will be more likely to have sex. This is not true. What is true, is that school based clinics are helpful in providing information to teens in a not so threatening environment.
Barriers to Care
There have been several studies, usually in the form of surveys, demonstrating that adolescents neither seek out nor receive adequate health services. Some studies have gone further to elucidate reasons for this reality. Reasons include financial barriers, objectionable rules for parental consent and notification, misinformation, and scarcity in health care providers trained to meet adolescent needs.
Adolescents are more likely to be uninsured than other populations for reasons not limited to, but highly contingent on financial constraints. Additionally the rates of uninsured young people continue to increase. The Office of Technology Assessment in 1991 reported that one in seven teenagers were uninsured; and further, a third of teens eligible for Medicaid remained uncovered. Quite a few policy changes have attempted to rectify this situation; for instance, the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1990 (Public Law 101-58) expanded Medicaid eligibility to all children born after September 30, 1983 in families below the federal poverty level. Also, the Balance Budget Act of 1997 included the State Children’s Health Insurance program, which was the single largest expansion in public health coverage for children in 30 years able to cover about 5 million more children and adolescents. Despite all the policy efforts to institute programs that are directed at, and equipped to resolve the issue of uninsured adolescents, why does the problem persist and worsen? Thoughts are, that uninsured adolescents often lack knowledge of available services or the process of signing on is either too complicated or sophisticated. Adolescents may consider the effort of obtaining public assistance for health care not worth the perceived benefit of the care. Financial barriers can be present in the form of not being able to afford any health insurance, and high premiums or co-payment rates that do not offset the assumed worth of the care anticipated (62).
Another barrier mentioned was the requirement of parental consent and notification for a minor to receive health care services dictated by common law. Even though, there are State specific exceptions and federal “emancipation” laws, few teens are aware of these. An emancipated minor is in the military, lives away from parents and financially supports him or herself; and, can give consent for his or her own medical treatment (25). Teens are less likely to seek medical care if parents are involved.
Although parental consent and notification are required, there are still rules on patient confidentiality that apply. Only a third of adolescents are aware that they have a right to confidentiality and most do not trust that confidentiality will be firmly maintained. A reasonable assumption, when surveys reveal that 53% of physicians reported discussing confidentiality policies with their teenage patients. Physician support of confidentiality rights for adolescents is reportedly based on conclusions on maturity of individual patients. Therefore, it seems as if the distrust is not without grounds.
Confidentiality concerns in the face of billing, relating to parental positions, insurance company disclosures, may result in providers referring teens to low-cost family planning clinics.
The Role of Policy
Reproductive health policy was defined in the Cairo Programme of Action as “the right of men and women to be informed and to have access to safe, effective, affordable and acceptable methods of family planning of their choice, as well as to other methods of their choice for regulation of fertility…”
The role of law in reproductive health (RH) is nothing if not controversial. How much can a government interfere or regulate the sexual health and behavior of its citizens? Additional complications arise when religious and moral codes of behavior are generalized by legal requirements. Approaches have ranged from applying general laws of human rights to RH issues, with no specific mention in the constitution or legal documents, to actually outlining detailed provisions under a devoted section. Other countries have also simply enacted laws to deal with particular aspects of RH. For instance Ghana enacted a law in 1995 to prohibit Female genital mutilation (WHO website).
Policy and law regarding issues of RH must be considered very carefully. An example of well intentioned but ineffective law, was one adopted by several jurisdictions that required HIV testing prior to obtaining a marriage license. This was meant to protect spouses from HIV by requiring the exchange of status between couples. The result was that couples got married outside of such jurisdictions or simply postponed marriage plans. Arising also was the concern that requiring this testing interfered with a persons right to marry and start a family. Such laws have largely been abolished and replaced with emphasis on education and counseling of couples. Similarly, laws that have prohibited abortions have served to increase the danger to the health and lives of women seeking abortions from illegal, underground sources or attempting to rid themselves of unwanted pregnancies using unorthodox methods. Balancing the priorities between the woman, the man, the unborn child, and society as a whole is the challenge the policies on RH must resolve to be effective. Resolving these priorities is the biggest obstacle to writing policies that are lasting and effective.
The Urban Institute examined several recent state policies to reduce teenage pregnancies. Several states have relied on welfare reforms to discourage adolescent pregnancy. The idea being that the restriction of aid to unwed teenage mothers will serve as a deterrent. The federal government, in addition to granting funds to states to sponsor abstinence education programs, also gives bonuses to states ranking lowest in unwed teenage pregnancies. The results of these recent policies are that 28 states in 1999 had official policies on public school based pregnancy education programs compared to 19 states with such policies in 1997. Furthermore, 23 states in 1999 included contraception education compared to only 14 states just two years earlier. However, programs on STDs have not seen similar growth. It is no wonder that pregnancy rates continue to decline, but STD rates remain fairly constant (63).
Although the recent emphasis on prevention of teen pregnancy seems to have yielded good results, a more global approach to sexual and reproductive health of the adolescent is required. Education on contraception needs to be included along with abstinence. The evidence has shown that for every $1 spent on providing contraception education, $4 can be saved on medical expenses (7).
Reproductive health is an issue that has been examined from a policy standpoint by several nations. Although this may be considered a woman’s issue, it really affects the entire population.
The evidence is overwhelming that sexual and reproductive health of the adolescent population is a public health concern that needs to be addressed. Several institutions have addressed this issue with varied levels of success. The approaches have ranged from national awareness programs to neighborhood and community campaigns. Some of the key elements for success of a program to address teen pregnancy and spread of STDs are early educational intervention, peer group involvement, access and affordability of confidential healthcare, and trained care givers in a supportive environment.
Family planning programs have a role to play. Without existing services, 386 thousand more adolescents would become pregnant every year and 155 thousand of those would go on to deliver: a 25% increase. This increase would lead to a 58% projected increase in the amount of abortions performed annually (23). It benefits everyone including the politically and religiously opposed to increase family planning services to adolescents.
Adolescent sexuality is a fact that is not changing. How we as a society choose to participate in this developmental stage of our youth will determine future rates of unintended pregnancies, abortions, STDs, and overall functional sexual and reproductive freedom.
Links for more information
Adolescent Sexuality- Teen and Parents
1. 1. Ask NOAH www.noah-health.org. York Online Access to Health (NOAH). City
University of New York, the Metropolitan New York Library Council, the
New York Academy of Medicine, and the New York Public Library.
2. 2. Go Ask Alice www.goaskalice.columbia.edu. Go Ask Alice is a source of general
health and sex information maintained by Columbia University health
educators. High school and college-age people submit most of the answers.
3. 3. It's Your (Sex) Life www.itsyoursexlife.com. Sponsored by the Kaiser Family
Foundation. Provides sexual information to young adults.
4. 4. I wanna know www.iwannaknow.org. Website is to answer questions teenagers may
have about their bodies, sex, and sexual feelings.
5. 5. Just for You: Teens http://healthfinder.gov/justforyou/. HealthfinderKIDS.
HealthFinders Teen Page has multiple links to government-sponsored
information for teens and providers.
For Providers and Professionals
6. 6. Advocates for Youth http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/. Provides information,
training, and advocacy to youth-serving organizations. Promotes young adults
to make informed, educated, and responsible choices about their sexual and
7. 7. Alan Guttmacher Institute http://www.agi-usa.org/index.html. The Alan
Guttmacher Institute is a research, policy analysis, and public education
organization dedicated to protecting the reproductive choices of men and
women in the United States and throughout the world.
8. 8. http://www.cedpa.org. Center for Development and Population Activities includes
the following programs:
1. 1. http://www.cedpa.org/trainprog/betterlife/betlife.htm. Better Life
Options for Girls and Young Women.
2. 2. http://www.cedpa.org/trainprog/ppgyw.htm. Helps girls in upper
Egypt strengthen vocational literacy skills and increase
understanding of family life issues.
3. http://www.cedpa.org/trainprog/saharan/subsahaf.htm. Adolescent and
Gender Project in sub-Saharan Africa.
TEENAGE PREGNANCY-Teens and Parents
9. 9. National Campaign to Prevent Teenage Pregnancy. http://www.teenpregnancy.org/
10. 10. On teen pregnancy. http://www.plannedparenthood.org/PARENTS/index.html.
Health Care Professionals
11. 11. CDC site on teenage pregnancy. http://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/teen.htm.
12. 12. From the Urban Institute: Involving males in preventing teen pregnancy.
13. 13. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS).
14. 14. The Data Archive on Adolescent Pregnancy and Pregnancy Prevention (DAAPPP).
15. 15. Child trends. http://www.childtrends.org. Excellent research briefs and facts in
16. 16. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist. http://www.acog.org/.
17. 17. Association of Reproductive Health Professionals. http://www.arhp.org/.
18. 18. Contraceptive Research and Development Program site. http://www.conrad.org/.
References and Additional Readings
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