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Online chat with William Christoffel

August 14, 2005

Moderator: Isn't teaching children about sex really a job for their parents? Why should the government intrude into family life in this way?

Christoffel: Without a doubt, the most effective method in reducing teenage pregnancy is a strong relationship between parents and their children. Unfortunately, parents cannot do this alone. Ours is a very complex society with many pressures on our teens. To address teen pregnancy, we have identified three focal points:

1. To assist the parents in talking with their teens about becoming sexually active.

2. To increase access to services for the teens, and

3. To expand programs currently offered through the school system to educate teens, not only about avoiding pregnancy, but also on the consequences of sexually-transmitted diseases.

In California, which went from having the highest teenage birth rate to the eighth lowest, much emphasis is placed on helping the parents be parents and helping them communicate with their adolescents about sexual activity, on how to handle peer pressure, and how to develop goals and objectives for their lives. One of the points that they use is to remind parents that their actions speak louder than their words.

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Moderator: You have previously criticized the school system for not updating its Family Life curriculum to reflect the reality of 2005. Have they done so yet and what other changes, in your opinion, need to be made there?

Christoffel: There has been some progress. Several months ago, the Family Life Curriculum Council met. Seven individuals attended, but unfortunately, no ones from the medical community and only several citizens. We recommended this committee meet at least four times a year, given our unacceptably high teen birth rate.

Whatever we are doing right now is not working. I feel that the schools have a role - an important role - in educating our teens on ways to prevent not only pregnancy, but sexually transmitted diseases. The schools have done an admirable job in getting teens to return to school soon after the birth of their child. The issue is in preventing conception. We need to be more efficient in our Family Life program.

Some possibilities:

· Increasing the class time spent discussing reproductive health issues. I believe that reproductive health classes occur in the fifth, sixth, eighth, and 10th grade. Can't we increase the number of classes that receive reproductive health training?

· Having school health nurses involved when issues of reproductive health and sexually transmitted diseases are discussed. Students know and trust school health nurses, who are available to talk and counsel students on any issues they may be having.

· Consider having a program for parents to help them communicate with their adolescents about reproductive health.

· Make more schools available for programs operated by Girls Inc. and the Boys and Girls Club. These very successful programs target high-risk middle-school children and teach them how to address peer pressure, how to say "no" and focus on building students' self esteem.

Unfortunately, last year, only two middle schools allowed Girls Inc. to offer after-school programs. Our guiding principle is to encourage teens to be abstinent, but for those teens who are sexually active, we must protect them from unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.




Name: Michael

Location: Hagerstown

Question: In last Wednesday's article on teenage pregnancy in the county, a Board of Education official said the county's teen pregnancy rate indicates the school system is doing the "worst job in the state" on prevention of pregnancy. I believe this assessment leaves out the role of any other organization in prevention.

I believe that the school system should work to expand and institutionalize its cooperation with the Health Department. How do you think we can help encourage an environment where service organizations and the school system cooperate more closely with one another?

Christoffel: I've always contended that this is a community problem (with which) not only the health department and the school system, but the religious community and service organizations and the business community needs to be involved. Under the leadership of Dale Bannon at the United Way, a group has been formed to develop a communitywide strategy to address the issue of reducing our teenage birth rate and sexually transmitted diseases. The one major section in our community that needs to be incorporated into this initiative is the business community.




Moderator: In Talbot County, officials say that they've been able to make progress by putting more "wellness centers" in the schools. Currently only one school here, Western Heights Middle' has such a center. Are there plans for more?

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