• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Friday 11th July, 2008

Is the UK ready for the Carolina All Stars promise

Latest statistics released by the UK government show that the number of under-16s having an abortion is up by 10%. Two years ago the figure was 3,990; last year it reached 4,376. It has also emerged that more than 20,000 girls under the age of 18 had a termination in 2007. Taken together, these findings have prompted some groups to lobby the UK government for new measures to tackle the issue of sex education and contraception for young people. Gill Frances, Chairwoman of the Teenage Pregnancy Independent Advisory Group, told The Times Online: “We know what works to reduce abortion among teenagers. We need high-quality sex-and-relationships education at school and at home, and effective contraception”. [See: Abortions on the rise for teenage girls.]A US example that on the face of it fits Gill Frances’s description is All Stars, a program that has successfully reduced sexual activity and other risky behaviors, such as substance misuse, among young adolescents. It is classified as a Model Program by the US Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA).Designed primarily for young people aged between the ages of eleven and 13, All Stars targets three factors that influence children’s decisions to engage in risky behaviors: normative beliefs, lifestyle incongruence and manifest commitment. The All Stars rationale says most teenagers are prone to exaggerate their own sexual experiences and that by doing so they create a mistaken belief among their peers that it is normal and acceptable to engage in early and unprotected sexual activity or drug-taking. All Stars helps young people to develop what it calls more positive normative beliefs by facilitating guided discussions and group activities around the subjects of drugs and sex. At the same time, young people enrolled on the program are encouraged to think about their aspirations and to acknowledge that early pregnancy and substance misuse are likely to jeopardize their chances. For example, they will be advised that drug taking is incompatible with an aspiration to be a doctor or a policeman. “Commitments” are another feature of the approach – voluntary, public promises to avoid premature sexual activity and substance abuse, usually made in writing or recorded on videotape. Parents are also drawn into the promise making. They attend training sessions and meetings designed to help them understand the principles of positive parenting and the practicalities of helping young people with their homework. All Stars has been experimentally evaluated several times and has been found to have significant moderating effect on sexual activity and substance misuse. Evaluation has also shown that the program has the most impact on outcomes when it is delivered by a teacher.

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