The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded $1.2 million for the first year of a five-year program which aims to improve sexual and reproductive health outcomes in adolescents to increase high-quality care and culturally affirming health education to minority groups in Harris County. Led by UTHealth Houston School of Public Health Department of Health Promotion and Behavioral Sciences faculty, Kim Baker, DrPH, assistant professor and assistant dean of practice, and Melissa Peskin, PhD, professor and vice chair of the department received notice of funding on their initiative, “Replicating Evidence-Based Teen Pregnancy Prevention (TPP) Programs to Scale in Multiple Settings to Advance Equity through the Adolescent Lifespan.”
This award is a part of a national initiative of over $69.5 million that has been awarded to evidence-based projects throughout the U.S. to increase access to evidence-based teen pregnancy programs in underserved communities.
This initiative will benefit youth aged 10-21 and their families, reaching over 26,000 proposed participants in the Houston area. “This opportunity is unique because it allows us to work across the adolescent life span to promote prevention from an equity-centered framework in Harris County,” said Baker. “Because our region is considered a microcosm of our diversifying nation, what we accomplish here could greatly improve sexual and reproductive health initiatives across our state and nation, particularly in the southern United States.”
Currently, teen birth rates have been on a decline in the past decade. Implementing these programs aims to address the disparate rates affecting marginalized communities due to structural inequities such as housing disparities and criminalization.
Both Baker and Peskin specialize in sexual and reproductive health, working to improve health outcomes for underrepresented groups. “If we can improve healthy relationships, then many other outcomes, in addition to improving sexual and reproductive health outcomes, such as improved mental health and reduced violence, can occur,” Peskin said.
Through a new center initiative, Collective Action for Reproductive Equity (CARE) at the School of Public Health, this project will apply evidence-based programs to the surrounding minority communities in Harris County. CARE seeks to conduct training, community-based action research, and health communication activities to help shift societal shame and structural harm in our region.
Through collaborations with institutions in the greater Houston area, such as Texas Southern University, University of Houston, Harris County Juvenile Probation Department, Baylor College of Medicine Teen Health Clinic, Houston Housing Authority, and Mental Health America of Greater Houston, this will be a large-scale effort to improve teen sexual and reproductive health outcomes, promote positive youth development, and advance health equity for adolescents, their families, and communities. The School of Public Health will be the primary lead in this endeavor.
“We are extremely excited about this five-year award and are in the early stages of planning for a successful implementation with all the partners involved,” Baker said.