The Evaluation of Abstinence Education Programs Funded Under Title V Section 510: Interim Report . Chapter II: Early Implementation Experiences of Abstinence Education Programs


The first four years of Title V Section 510 funding for abstinence education have generated a wealth of experience on how local communities and schools have designed and implemented abstinence programs and how youth have responded to them.  Interviews with program staff, parents, and students, as well as observations of what and how the abstinence message is conveyed, have yielded rich information on program operations, program models, youth response, and local agency partnership opportunities and challenges.  This chapter discusses the experiences of communities, schools, and youth with abstinence education programs, focusing primarily on the 11 programs selected for the evaluation.  The analysis also draws on observations of the uses of abstinence education funding more generally.  Federal monitoring efforts document the funding allocations and the types of programs supported nationwide.  State and local evaluations provide additional detail on how the state grants are dispersed to local communities and the range of programs and activities supported.

The experience of these early years of funding has produced five important conclusions that can guide future fiscal and programmatic decisions:

  1. Section 510 abstinence funds are changing the local landscape of approaches to teenage pregnancy prevention and youth risk avoidance.  Despite an initial debate in some states over whether and how to spend abstinence education funds, all states applied for funding at some point and are using the monies in innovative ways to promote abstinence from sexual activity as the healthiest choice for youth.
  2. Most abstinence education programs offer more than a single message of abstinence.  Examples of curricula and program components from sites participating in the evaluation indicate the diverse, creative, and often complex nature of many initiatives.
  3. Most participants report favorable feelings about their program experience.  Youth respond especially positively to staff who show strong and unambiguous commitment to the program message.  They also seem to like programs that deliver an intensive set of youth development services to enhance and support the unambiguous abstinence message.
  4. Abstinence programs face real challenges addressing peer pressure and the communication gulf between parents and children.  Sexual activity often elicits only casual mention among youth, and is tolerated and even promoted by their peer culture.  Many programs attempt to address peer pressure, in part, through parent involvement.  Yet, for many programs, engaging parents has proven to be extremely challenging.
  5. Local schools are valuable program partners, but establishing these partnerships is sometimes difficult.  Their broad access to youth makes schools logical and important partners for many programs, but some schools resist collaboration with abstinence education programs.  Sometimes schools resist because of competing priorities; at other times, resistance stems from debate about health and sex education policies.