Grantee Spotlight: Pregnancy Prevention Awareness for Teen Boys

A diverse group of teen boys.

Teen pregnancy prevention efforts are usually focused on the behavior and choices of girls. However, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) is taking an often overlooked approach to prevent teen pregnancy. With funding from the Family and Youth Services Bureau’s State Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), the IDPH is encouraging boys to make wiser and more responsible decisions by implementing the “Wise Guys Male Responsibility Curriculum.”

“Programs should not… overlook the males. There are a lot of [teen pregnancy prevention] programs for females, but it’s important to include males in that conversation as well,” urged Addie Rasmusson, community health consultant and PREP coordinator for the IDPH.

The evidence-based curriculum for boys ages 11 to 17 is administered by four PREP contractors in 11 middle schools, two high schools, two alternative high schools, and two community-based settings (i.e., treatment facilities) in six Iowa counties. During fiscal year 2015, the 284 male participants attended an average of 77 percent of the Wise Guys sessions offered in Iowa through the PREP grant. That number increased to 365 participants during fiscal 2016.

Facilitators lead boys in discussions about their values, goals, responsibilities, and relationships during the 12 - 15 weekly or bi-weekly Wise Guys sessions held during school hours. The frequency, times, and dates of the sessions rotate to minimize conflict with regular classroom instruction. 

[Read research on how African American teen boys view healthy relationships.]

“A misconception people may have is that boys don’t want to talk about this stuff,” Rasmusson said. “[But] if you get them together in a room, they really open up and want to talk about the topics in Wise Guys.”

Engaging a Diverse Student Body

IDPH found that by bringing together boys who identified as “high-risk” (i.e., youth who may be performing poorly at school due to trouble at home, or living in poverty) and those at lower risk, there were more opportunities for the boys to learn from each other. Those at high risk interact with leaders in their school, and model positive behaviors. This strategy also allows those who are at lower risk to better understand that their peers may have very different life experiences.  

[Read tips for assessing teen boys’ risk of getting someone pregnant.]

“[Wise Guys is] not all about behaviors, it’s also about [the] life experiences [boys] share in class, and potentially getting a different view of the topics they talk about,” Rasmusson explained.

Involving Youth to Customize the Program

In addition to the Wise Guys curriculum, The PREP grant requires instructors to cover at least three of the six prescribed areas of adulthood preparation:

  1. Healthy development
  2. Parent-child communication
  3. Relationship skills
  4. Healthy life skills
  5. Educational and career success
  6. Financial literacy

IDPH has recently given instructors the freedom to choose the three areas they were most interested in covering (with input from the participants), and related subtopics. For example, if two groups choose to talk about relationship skills, one may focus on mental health in the context of healthy relationships, while another might focus on teen dating violence prevention. This allows opportunities for youth engagement, as each program is tailored to the needs of its population.

Continuing to Build the Evidence Base

IDPH regularly conducts focus groups and compiles quotes from youth about the program and publishes them online (PDF, 459KB) as a promotional tool to spread both Wise Guys and the Teen Outreach Program, another evidence-based teen pregnancy prevention course IDPH offers, to other schools in the area.

To measure the impact of the program, evaluators are studying the Bethany for Children and Families child welfare and social services agency, which administers Wise Guys in seven local Iowa middle schools. The implementation report (PDF, 1MB), released by Mathematica Policy Research in February of this year, discovered that it was challenging to fit the content and discussions into the schools’ prescribed class period lengths. In spite of this, participating boys were actively engaged in activities and discussions, and believed that the program would positively affect how they behaved in the future.

Two additional impact reports, expected in 2017 and 2018, will measure the effectiveness of Wise Guys in reducing teen pregnancy and increasing contraceptive use among participants.

Visit The Exchange, FYSB's Teen Pregnancy Prevention website for more information about the bureau's approaches to preventing teen pregnancy and childbearing.

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