August 9, 2017

The Multnomah County Health Department is formally appealing the Trump Administration’s surprise move to end a five-year teen health grant two years early.

The county won a competitive $6.25 million grant in 2015 to help middle and high school students, and their parents and teachers in five school districts, to prevent unintended pregnancies and teach healthy relationship skills.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Adolescent Health awarded the county $1.25 million a year for five years to replicate evidence-based programs in middle schools, high schools and culturally specific community-based settings.

Without warning and without explanation or regard to performance, on July 6, the federal agency terminated the grant as of 2018. The county has challenged the decision saying the unilateral termination of Multnomah County’s grant agreement is improper.

The Adolescents and Communities Together project was designed to address health disparities that had been occurring among American Indians/Alaskan Natives, Blacks/African Americans, and Latinas, including high teen birth rates. These same youth also experience disparities for many co-occurring risk factors such as sexually transmitted diseases, socioeconomic disadvantage, educational attainment, and lack of positive youth development opportunities and supports.

Conducted in partnership with Planned Parenthood Columbia Willamette, the program includes the Boys and Girls Clubs of Portland Metro, Latino Network, Native American Youth and Family Center and Self-Enhancement, Inc. Project. The partners collaborate to ensure programs are inclusive, medically accurate, trauma-informed, and culturally relevant to those served.

The health curriculum selected was chosen based on its effectiveness in other communities. Studies have also shown that providing youth with comprehensive sexual education does significantly delay sexual initiation, reduced the number of sexual partners, and increased condom or contraceptive use. It also has shown to have an impact on the frequency of sex young adults participate in, by reducing it, including a return to abstinence.

Partners express their support for continuing the program

“The Native American community in Portland depends on this program to improve the health of our community,’’ said Paul Lumley, (Yakama), executive director of the Native American Youth and Family Center. “Everybody benefits when our youth are well-educated and able to make decisions that are going to help them in the future.”

To date, the project has served more than 8,000 young people in Portland Public, David Douglas, Parkrose, Reynolds and Centennial school districts. Parkrose School District Superintendent Dr. Karen Fischer Gray said she fully supports the Multnomah County Health Department’s appeal, as does David Douglas.

"David Douglas is among the most diverse school districts in Oregon, with some of the highest urban poverty rates and students who are at high risk for both unwanted pregnancies and STDs,’’ said Dan McCue, spokesman for the David Douglas School District. “This grant has provided a valuable tool for us to deliver culturally specific, accurate, and state-standard compliant sex education to these high risk populations."

Veronica Sunderland-Perez from Latino Network adds, “Our community has been extremely supportive of our efforts to provide culturally specific comprehensive sexuality education, recognizing that it provides young people with the tools to make informed decisions and build healthy relationships, and encourages healthy family communication about sexuality.”

One parent who has participated in the work told organizers: “I appreciate being able to build awareness, comfort and acceptance of the importance of talking about sexual health with our youth.”

The County hopes the administrative appeal will avoid unnecessary litigation.