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2015 Legislative Session in Review: Youth Sexual Health in Colorado

2015 Legislative Session in Review: Youth Sexual Health in Colorado

As the dust settles after an uphill 2015 legislative session, we would like to take a moment to reflect on challenges, successes and the road ahead. A divided Colorado House and Senate resulted in a session slowed down by gridlock and partisanship. By the end of the session, legislators had approved fewer bills than any term in the past four years. There were several opportunities to promote the health and well-being of Colorado youth through policy reform and the introduction of new legislation and unfortunately, most of these important initiatives were defeated. Most remarkably, the Long-Acting Reversible Contraception (LARC) bill, legislation with bi-partisan sponsorship, was defeated in the Senate State, Military and Veteran Affairs Committee. This bill would have extended funding for the Colorado Family Planning Initiative, a program that provides long-acting reversible contraceptive to underserved teens and women at a free or reduced cost. While it is incredibly disheartening that legislation with clear fiscal and health benefits was defeated, we were inspired and encouraged by the many legislative champions and community advocates who showed up in support of it. We are not giving up and will continue to advocate for programs that work because we know how important it is to ensure that youth have access to the most effective forms of birth control as a part of their sexual health.

Spotlight on... Sarah Nickels, CDPHE School Health Specialist

Spotlight on... Sarah Nickels, CDPHE School Health Specialist

This month we want to take the time to spotlight the great work of Sarah Nickels, School Health Specialist at the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), who has done a great job leading efforts to support the implementation of the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey. Read on to find out more about Sarah, and how you can get involved with the great work she is doing.

Briefly describe your background and how you got to your current position as School Health Specialist at CDPHE.

As a social worker, I am fortunate to have worked in a variety of roles in public health, education, health care and nonprofit organizations. The common thread that has guided my career has been my passion for promoting positive youth development, social justice and health equity. In 2011, I joined the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment to implement a multi-state project designed to improve the quality of care in school-based health centers. While in that role, I completed my doctorate in social work with a goal of helping people understand and use data to improve social and health outcomes. In November, 2014, I became the School Health Specialist, a perfect opportunity to put my social work, public health and research skills to work!

Act NOW to Save the HKCS Survey!

Act NOW to Save the HKCS Survey!

Members of Colorado’s State Board of Education are still trying to do away with the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, a voluntary and anonymous survey conducted in schools across Colorado that provides statewide information about the status of youth health and well-being. The survey is conducted every two years and is supported by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), Colorado Department of Education (CDE), and Colorado Department of Human Services (CDHS).

Over 40,000 randomly-selected youth in 224 middle and high schools throughout the state participated in the 2013 survey. This participation rate was great! It meant that we had enough data to make educated assumptions about the health behaviors – both risks and resiliencies – of most young people across the state. This, in turn, helps us target funding for programs, education, and services to reach the greatest number of youth with the greatest need.

Spotlight on... Rae Laser, Manager of Community Outreach

Spotlight on... Rae Laser, Manager of Community Outreach

First off tell me about how you got involved in the sexual health field and what brought you to Colorado Youth Matter…

Well, I’ve worked with and for youth since I was a youth from after-school programs for at-risk kids and summer camps. I landed at a homeless teen center in Salt Lake City and the misinformation they had about sex, pregnancy and STI’s was scary. When I moved to Denver I was looking for an organization where I could mix my passion for youth leadership development and the importance of sexual health knowledge together and Colorado Youth Matter was the perfect fit.

What 3-5 words would you use to describe your personality?

Direct, honest, humorous, talkative and outgoing

CREATE Council at National Voter Registration Day

CREATE Council at National Voter Registration Day

Check out this great blog by CREATE Council Member Emma Griffin-Derr about youth getting out the vote this election season!

On National Voter Registration Day (September 23rd), thousands of volunteers across the country gathered in areas such as the mall, school campuses, bus stops, and concert venues to register voters in time for the upcoming state elections. Among these volunteers was Katie Raitz; a friendly and knowledgeable representative of Colorado Youth Matter’s CREATE Council. Katie greeted students on Colorado University’s busy campus and talked to them about the importance of voting.

“It’s essential that millennials vote because laws are being made as we speak, and it’s so important to take part in making them. I do voter outreach because it’s a statistic that the younger you start voting, the more likely you are to be a lifelong voter. I love doing it on my college campus because it’s such an abundant community of young people with compelling voices that need to be heard.”

Being an Askable Adult - A Primer

Being an Askable Adult - A Primer

We hope you enjoy this guest blog post by Bree Ervin with tips for Let's Talk Month!

Talking to kids about sex can be hard. Many of us missed out on the sexual health education we wish for, or were raised by parents who were uncomfortable having “the talk.” Talking to other people’s children about sex and sexuality can multiply that discomfort – how do you handle different values, how do you judge how much information to provide, how much is too much, how little is too little?

This post hopes to offer a brief primer to help make the job of talking to any kids, but especially other people’s kids, about sex and sexuality a little easier.

Whether you are a teacher tasked with providing comprehensive sexual health education or just the “cool” parent on the block who is known for having an open door and an open mind, it is important to know how to handle questions about sex and sexuality respectfully and appropriately.

Let's Talk about "It"

Let's Talk about

We hope you enjoy this guest blog post by Cori DePue about Let's Talk Month!

I’ve always been the sensitive and inquisitive member of the family- the one with lots of questions, lots of emotion, and the one to openly approach all topics of conversation with little discomfort. So, it was no surprise that at an early age, I began to inquire about the ultimate, most cringe-worthy, heart-stoppingly awkward topic with my mother, much to her dismay. What’s a condom? How many holes do I have? What are they all there for? Hey Mom, can you tell me what crabs are? Every question I asked (about sex), she evaded, or left me with as little information as possible. My sweet mother is no different than a majority of the parents out there today, but these conversations are so important to engage in, and the sooner they get brought to the table, the better.

October is “Let’s Talk Month”, a national campaign that focuses on encouraging and helping parents communicate with their children about issues related to sexuality. It serves as an annual reminder to parents that there is no better time than now to rip off the band-aid and engage your kids on the dreaded “sex talk”.

Spotlight on... Stefanie Winfield, Evaluation Manager

Spotlight on... Stefanie Winfield, Evaluation Manager

First off tell me about how you got involved in the sexual health field and what brought you to Colorado Youth Matter…

I was lucky to grow up in a home were sexuality was just another dinner conversation. It was a long time before I realized not everyone was that lucky and many of my peers were mis or under-informed. I got involved in the sexual health field in college during the HIV/AIDS crisis and was sparked to action after reading ‘And the Band Played On.’ That led to doing HIV/AID research and education in Nigeria and Malawi, first as a student and then as a Peace Corps Volunteer. After working at a few Denver non profits, I was thrilled to find this position at Colorado Youth Matter that combined so many of my passions and interests: sexual health and education, evaluation, working with communities.

What 3-5 words would you use to describe your personality?

Optimistic, direct, friendly

Guest Blog: Getting the Word out about LARC Contraceptive Methods

Guest Blog: Getting the Word out about LARC Contraceptive Methods

Guest blog post by Cori DePue

Over the past five years, teen birth rates in the state of Colorado have dropped nearly 40%, in large part due to a government initiative that has greatly increased access to affordable contraception within the state.  The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment partnered with 68 clinics throughout the state to provide long-acting reversible contraception (LARC) to young women  at little or no cost.  Five years into the program research has revealed great success, not only showing a decrease in unplanned pregnancies across the state, but also a large reduction in abortion rates.

What exactly is LARC?

LARC stands for long-acting reversible contraception (LARC), meaning that it isn’t permanent but can be effective for 3-12 years after a single insertion. There are two primary types of LARC available on the market today:

Intrauterine Devices (IUD’s) are small, plastic devices inserted into the uterus to prevent pregnancy. There are two types of IUDs, copper and hormonal. Both work to prevent pregnancy by interfering with the way in which sperm moves toward an egg, so that the two cannot join together.

Contraceptive Implants consist of a thin rod made from flexible, plastic that is inserted just under the skin on a woman’s arm. This device releases a steady amount of progestin in order to prevent pregnancy by suppressing ovulation.

Abstinence-Only? Take Action!

Abstinence-Only? Take Action!

Did you know that, despite a good (“if/then”) law supporting comprehensive sex ed, Colorado still accepts federal funding for abstinence-only programming*? These programs must adhere to the federal definition of abstinence, which includes instruction that “teaches that sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects.”

Colorado has no centralized way – or accountable state agency whose job is – to determine what is being taught, exactly, in the classroom. Colorado Youth Matter has conducted two statewide snapshots but ultimately learned that the best way to find out what young people are learning is to ask young people, their parents and other trusted adults to ask their schools and districts.

Why I give

Why I give

This is a guest blog post from our the Chair of our Board of Directors, Michelle Fuller, about why she invests her time and money into Colorado Youth Matter.

What inspired you to become a board member of Colorado Youth Matter?
I believe everyone has the right to know the facts and make the decisions that are right for them regarding their health and well-being. I wanted to serve on the board of a small nonprofit that reflects that and does great work, so when I found Colorado Youth Matter I was inspired by their mission and I knew it would be a good organization for me to invest in.

What 3-5 words would you use to describe your personality?
Compassionate, feisty, and creative.

Spotlight on... Becca Bolden, Research Manager

Spotlight on... Becca Bolden, Research Manager

Where did you grow up and what was your experience with sex education as an adolescent?

I am a proud Denver native, and I grew up attending schools in the Denver Public Schools district. Unfortunately, DPS did not provide any sex education when I was in school, so my peers and I were left to find information in other ways. While my parents weren’t overly comfortable with the subject of sex and sexual health, they were willing to provide me with resources and information. The best resource I remember receiving from them was the book It’s Perfectly Normal by Robie Harris. I would highly recommend this book for adolescents – it had some great information and like the title suggests, mad e me feel more comfortable about the changes I was experiencing during puberty.

What inspired you or when did you first know that you wanted to work in the adolescent health field?

When I was in college, a professor of mine recommended the book Our Bodies Our Crimes by Jeanne Flavin and I felt forever changed from reading that book. It was my first introduction to the field of reproductive justice and it lit a fire under me. After that, I sought out resources and opportunities to learn more about sexual health and reproductive justice. My first position in the adolescent health field was working with the Teen Parent Program run by Denver Public Schools as a graduate student intern and from there I found Colorado Youth Matter and have further developed my passion for this field.

Guest Blog: Why We March

Guest blog post from Cori DePue

When lesbian, gay, bisexual, and trans folk took to the streets of New York City in the early hours of June 28, 1969, it was not a parade. It was a political action. A group of gay customers at a bar in Greenwich Village, who had grown angry by insistent harassment from local police forces, took a stand. A riot arose in the streets as police reinforcements arrived on the scene and brutally beat the crowd away. The next night the crowd returned, even larger and more aggressive than the night before. For hours and days afterward, the protestors continued to fight, and demonstrations of varying intensity took place throughout the city. However, in the end, the queer community declared victory.

Violence was something that the queer community had to learned to live with, even in New York City, where a certain degree of freedom existed- in comparison to the rest of the nation. The Stonewall Uprising is often sited as the origin for the contemporary LGBTQ movement. While the riots did not affect current laws or policies regarding homosexuality, it certainly changed the gay psyche and brought the equality issues of the LGBTQ community out of the shadows and into the public light.

Because of these historical riots, the month of June is nationally declared LGBT Pride Month, and we celebrate this sense of pride by attending, volunteering, and supporting Pride festivals, parades, and marches that occur throughout the nation. These events are an expression of individualism and freedom, a call for equality, and they serve as a reminder that although it may seem that Stonewall was “yesterday”, the struggle still remains. Why does this all matter though? Why is gay pride still relevant?

The Journey from the Inside Looking Out

The Journey from the Inside Looking Out

This blog was written by our intern, William Burse about his experience working with Colorado Youth Matter this year. 

I chose to join forces with Colorado Youth Matter (CYM) because being actively involved in the sexual health field is important for me to help others reach their full potential in whatever they desire to achieve, by following the pathway CYM has established around culturally inclusive and accurate sexual health education. The youth that come into contact with CYM have the opportunity to reevaluate, connect and push forward the movement so that other young people can speak up and break down walls and barriers for the present and future generations of youth to come. The educational resources and knowledge CYM provides for communities shows the importance of understanding why youth need to have a voice in their sexual health development.

National Spotlight on our Work with TOP®

National Spotlight on our Work with TOP®

Colorado Youth Matter’s work with the Teen Outreach Program® was recently highlighted by national partner Wyman. Read on to learn more about our work with TOP® and how you can get involved.

Colorado Youth Matter (CYM) initiated the Colorado Network for Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program® in 2011 to make TOP® more accessible for organizations throughout Colorado. A state-wide organization committed to youth sexual health and access to opportunity for all young people, the organization now supports 23 TOP® clubs serving 350 youth in total. CYM plans to see TOP® continue to grow and reach more youth in need this year.

“TOP® helps our teens make better choices because it gives them two things: the knowledge needed to make informed decisions and the confidence in their own critical thinking to make decisions in their own best interest,” said a CYM partner facilitator.

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