Sexual Health Education for Adolescents in Foster Care

Interpersonal Communication Р4.6: Effectively prepare and deliver educational materials to individuals and groups.

One of the most important parts about being a doctor is helping patients to understand their health and healthcare. Patient education is a crucial portion of patient care and different populations may require education on different topics. One population that has great need for education but is often neglected are youths in the foster care system. These children and young adults tend to have very inconsistent schooling along with unstable social lives, poor social support, and a host of other difficulties that make it difficult for them to learn the information and skills they need when transitioning out of the foster care system. Adolescents in foster care also experience higher rates of pregnancy than those in the general population, with 55% of females experiencing pregnancy and 23% of males fathering children by age 19.1 For my medical school Community Health Education project, I worked with a group of fellow students to help address this need by creating and implementing a sexual wellness education class for a group of adolescents at New Story Group Home.

For our sexual wellness education class, we focused on three areas: basic anatomy and physiology, giving and receiving consent, and pregnancy prevention. We placed special emphasis on addressing the most common myths regarding these topics and sexual health, as well as anonymously any questions the adolescents had. We created a powerpoint presentation and also had interactive portions such as a condom application demonstration and practice session (on bananas). Below is one of the slides from the presentation where we discussed different myths regarding contraception and pregnancy.

Slide from Sexual Health Education presentation

While we originally designed the lesson to be about an hour long, our participants asked so many questions that the session ended up lasting nearly 3 hours. We were delighted that they were so interested and had so many questions they wanted answered; however, the length of the session did lead to many of the kids having difficulty with sustaining attention. This was an optional program for them to attend (although incentivized by the group home reward system), and towards the end there were a few participants who were roaming in and out or doing other things to distract the others. As Community Health Education projects are done every year by second year medical students at OSU, we recommended that the students taking over our project break up the lesson to allow time for the enormous amount of questions the adolescents had.

Although the program went on for longer than expected, we found that it was overall a huge success, if not just for our ability to keep most of the kids engaged for 3 hours straight. We also found that we were able to help the kids at New Story Group Home learn about basic sex ed and consent, and saw proof of this by providing a pre and post quiz, with results shown below.

Quiz scores before and after lesson

Sexual health and wellness is a topic that all adolescents should receive. However, adolescents in the foster care system are especially in need of such education, and through our Community Health Education project we sought to try and fill this gap. Through our program we were not only able to teach a group of these kids key information for their futures, but also learn critical skills ourselves on how to conduct developmentally appropriate education. In my residency program and beyond I plan to continue providing this type of education to those most in need. It is a passion-project that I hope to incorporate into my future career.

  1. Oshima KMM, Narendorf SC, McMillen JC. Pregnancy Risk Among Older Youth Transitioning Out Of Foster Care. Children and youth services review. 2013;35(10):1760-1765. doi:10.1016/j.childyouth.2013.08.001.