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Teen pregnancy prevention research at Texas A&M to lose grant money

Teen pregnancy prevention research at Texas A&M to lose grant money

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Texas A&M University is set to lose $3 million in federal grant funding, cutting short a five-year research project that aids teen pregnancy prevention programs.

Two years ago, A&M joined the U.S. Office of Adolescent Health's Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, and the school will be among more than 80 with similar missions nationwide that will be impacted by the cuts announced earlier this month.

Kelly Wilson, associate professor in the department of health and kinesiology and lead researcher on the project, said they were informed in a letter from the Department of Health and Human Services about the decision to shut down the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, two years before the grant was expected to run out.

"There have been no official reasons why [it was canceled] with the exception being that this program does not fit within the current administration's vision," Wilson said, referring to President Donald Trump. 

Wilson said the university was on track to receive a total of $7.5 million -- $1.5 million per year -- from the fall of 2015 through fall 2019 for the project. Funding is expected to stop June 30, 2018.

Wilson said Texas A&M's research centers around promoting and supporting the development of innovative teen pregnancy prevention programs focused on adolescents who are under-served by existing programs in communities across the country. 

"We wanted to make sure we are delivering programs not only focused on the science, but also the youth needs for health programing," Wilson said. "We've been working with 15 different grantees so far that are making sure what the youth need to have healthier behaviors as adolescents is incorporated into the programs delivered to them."

Eliminating the program, she said, will have a broad negative impact on A&M's team of researchers working on the project.

"We've spent the last week figuring out our strategic plan moving forward and having that difficult conversation with the staff people working on the project about their jobs," Wilson said. It wasn't clear Sunday how many positions would be cut because of the loss of funding.

Beyond those challenges, Wilson said the over-arching impact is how it will affect the programs seeking to help improve adolescent health.

"We've made a lot of progress focusing on evidence-based programs that we know have science behind them and are supported through evaluation and research," Wilson said. "The funds that have been provided by the federal government have been key to that."

The Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program was established in 2010 as a part of the Office of Adolescent Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under a Congressional mandate to fund medically accurate and age-appropriate programs, according to its website.

Focusing on youth ages 10-19, the grants -- worth more than $200 million total -- fall into one of four categories: The implementation of evidence-based prevention programs, improving the ability of youth-serving organizations in putting the methods into practice, the evaluation of new and innovative methods to prevent teen pregnancy, and supporting the innovation of technology and programs-based approaches.

In the first five years of the program, from 2010-2014, grantees reached about half a million youth, trained more than 6,800 professionals and established partnerships with over 3,800 community-based organizations across the U.S.

Wilson said she believes teen pregnancy prevention and education are a particularly important mission given the long-standing history of limited resources and information available to teens and youth.

She said given that teen pregnancy prevention is often treated as a taboo subject that people often would rather shy away from, leaving youth without critical health information.

"Where some parents may be talking to their children at home about this topic, it is often the case they don't get reliable, accurate information from all of the sources they come into contact with," Wilson said. "That's why uniform, evidence-based programs are important for youth."

Without the federal government's support, Wilson said projects like the one at A&M will have to rely on the support of foundations and other non-government organizations interested in supporting their mission. While helpful, she said it is nearly impossible to make up for the funding it is losing.

"We really need to be able to count on our elected officials and our health services departments in the state and federal governments to insure that our youth have access to services that are going to help them have the healthiest behaviors," she said.

Additionally, Wilson said the current political climate also threatens to further challenge researchers and health care providers seeking to improve community-driven, preventative care.

"It's going to be very difficult [to move forward] given where we are in health discussions as a nation," Wilson said. "It's going to be difficult for community-based programs to really be able to sustain this work knowing that we're looking at cuts to several prevention programs. When you look at the conversations our elected officials are having, they're really focusing on issues that are focused on reactionary perspectives rather than prevention."

In addition to Texas A&M, other Texas institutions receiving funding from the program include The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio, Community Action Corporation of South Texas in Alice, Project Vida Health Center in El Paso, The Dallas Foundation in Dallas, EngenderHealth, Inc. in Austin, and Healthy Futures of Texas in San Antonio.

For more information on the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program, go to bit.ly/TAMU-TPPprogram.

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