Originally created 09/23/04

Teen center policy pushes abstinence



ATLANTA - Centers meant to help prevent teen pregnancy face new restrictions on curriculum and the distribution of contraceptives after a state board signed off on a new policy Wednesday.

The teen centers must now devote at least 50 percent of their curriculum to abstinence-only education and can only allow condoms to be handed out "in a clinical setting by a health-care professional."

The centers will remain open, despite earlier proposals that would have closed them down.

The policy ends months of wrangling over the centers. Even with the changes, board members said, teenagers wouldn't have much trouble finding condoms, which can be obtained at a county health center or nearby clinic. Board members pointed out that many of the centers are based in the county facilities anyway.

"We don't want to just hand (them) out willy-nilly," said Donald Cole, a board member from Albany.

The panel unanimously approved the change, even though members were divided, some saying the policy was too lenient and others arguing that it was too strict.

Dr. Iffath Abbasi Hoskins, of Savannah, said she was concerned adults at the center might lose valuable opportunities to teach teenagers about safe sex if they were forced to refer the students to a doctor or other health-care professional.

"Sometimes, the person dealing with that teenager has that moment in time to grab the attention of that teenager," Dr. Hoskins said.

But other members thought the policy didn't go far enough.

Vernadette Ramirez Broyles of Norcross proposed that the centers be required to devote a least three-quarters of their curriculum to abstinence. Her proposal was soundly defeated.

The policy also gives broad guidelines for Parent Advisory Committees, which will have 6-10 members each.

It also requires centers to offer parent education programs in addition to the teen-focused programs.

Reach Brandon Larrabee at (404) 681-1701 or brandon.larrabee@morris.com.