kelly wallace piece
Is it OK to talk with kids about your sex life?
01:08 - Source: CNN

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The Trump administration is cutting teen pregnancy prevention programs

Yet many researchers, program directors, youth advocates and city health officials argue for them to stay

CNN  — 

Most teenagers feel uncomfortable talking about sex, but not 16-year-old Bryanna Ely.

As a youth leader for the Buffalo, New York-based teen pregnancy prevention program HOPE Buffalo, Ely talks to not only other teens but also adults. She explains how they can help teens when it comes to their emotional, physical and sexual health, abstinence and birth control.

“It’s definitely made me more comfortable around health providers, because I was very nervous and not willing to talk about it, but then once I joined HOPE Buffalo, it’s an easy subject to talk about. Well, not that easy, but it’s easy enough to talk about that I don’t feel so uncomfortable,” said Ely, who will be entering her junior year in high school this month.

Bryanna Ely, third from the right, with other HOPE Buffalo youth leaders who help organize educational and community programs for teens in their community with a focus on emotional, physical, and sexual health.

While volunteering with HOPE Buffalo at a local community center, Ely said, she remembered meeting another teenage girl, sharing sexual health information with her and feeling like she made a difference.

“She took in all the information, and she said she would not get pregnant until she was 28 or 30,” Ely said. “I joined HOPE Buffalo because I wanted to make a change in my community and make sure that these teenagers who didn’t have a voice had a voice.”

Yet federal funding for such teen pregnancy prevention programs in the United States is now on the chopping block.

Instead, the US Department of Health and Human Services said in a statement that it’s continuing to review best approaches, which it says “will be guided by science and a firm commitment to giving all youth the information and skills they need to improve their prospects for optimal health outcomes.”

Among the leadership within the Department of Health and Human Services, Secretary Tom Price and Valerie Huber, chief of staff to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, have been proponents of abstinence-only education programs.

‘Took me completely by surprise’

Around the Fourth of July, Stan Martin, project director of HOPE Buffalo, received a notice from Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health that indicated funding would end next June, after just three years, instead of continuing to fund the program for the expected five years.

Other grant recipients of the Teen Pregnancy Prevention program across the country received the same notice.

The Office of Adolescent Health’s Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program currently funds 84 grants to reduce teen pregnancy across clinics, schools and communities, by implementing and evaluating prevention programs and supporting technology- and program-based approaches, according to the office’s website. Their end date is now June 30.

Meanwhile, funding for “capacity-building” assistance providers that help organizations develop and deliver programs was eliminated effective immediately, said Lauren Ranalli, director of the Adolescent Health Initiative at the University of Michigan, which provides assistance to HOPE Buffalo and other teen pregnancy prevention programs across the country.

“This news took me completely by surprise,” Ranalli said.

“My immediate thought was really about all of the incredible work that was in progress with grantees in South Carolina and Oklahoma and Baltimore and Buffalo and Los Angeles and so many other locations,” she said.

Martin said HOPE Buffalo will be turning to local partners for help. The organization already partners with community centers, public schools and faith-based groups.

“The community itself, they’re demanding that adolescents have access to these resources, to this information, regardless of funding,” Martin said.

Moving forward, “our youth leadership team, they’re heavily involved in every decision that we make. They’ll be educating the community in terms of what this program means to them,” he said. “I think it’s our duty as caring adults that we provide a sense of purpose or hope for adolescents.”

Ely hopes HOPE Buffalo continues, she said. “It has changed my life completely.”

Officials spar over teen pregnancy

Health and Human Services said in an emailed statement to CNN that an evaluation of previous first-round teen pregnancy prevention programs, which were active from 2010 to 2014, revealed that those programs were not as effective as thought.