Transitions: Community Participation
Volume 14, No. 3, April 2002
This Transitions is also available in [PDF] format.
Plain Talk is a neighborhood-based initiative, launched by the Annie E. Casey Foundation in 1993, to help adults develop the skills and tools they need to communicate effectively with young people about reducing sexual risk behaviors. Five urban neighborhoods—Mechanicsville in Atlanta, GA; Logan Heights in San Diego, CA; White Center in Seattle, WA; St. Thomas in New Orleans, LA; and Stowe Village in Hartford, CT—received resources and tools to develop and implement a plan adhering to four basic principles:
- Community residents should be central to the decision-making process.
- Residents should come to a consensus about what changes are necessary.
- Communities should have reliable information regarding the problems and practices addressed.
- Adults should not deny the reality that some youth are sexually active.
Each community used "community mapping" to gather critical data regarding beliefs, norms, and practices within that community. This highly collaborative process helped forge community awareness and motivation around the issue of adolescents' sexual risk behaviors. Based on a draft survey instrument, residents developed culturally appropriate surveys and went door-to-door, surveying between 300 and 700 adults in the community. Residents interviewed an equal number of adolescents at "youth-friendly" sites and, with lead agency staff, analyzed the data.
Early on, each community developed a network of supportive, resident, opinion leaders and spokespeople who successfully presented the findings from the community mapping and argued for important community actions. In each neighborhood, the network continued to be a primary means for disseminating information, recruiting residents to participate, and receiving feedback.
The cornerstone of Plain Talk's strategy was adult peer education. In each community, Plain Talk staff worked with interested residents to develop their skills as peer educators. Residents created formal and informal opportunities and used innovative techniques, such as role plays and fables, to give messages cultural relevance and to empower the community's adults. Residents were the primary means of delivering effective and consistent messages to adults and youth. Through work at events around Cinco de Mayo, Kwanza, Valentine's Day, and Father's Day, among others, neighborhood spokespeople gained visibility as knowledgeable "Plain Talkers," approachable by youth and adults alike. Residents also assumed increasing levels of responsibility for planning and carrying out activities. Residents' leadership ensured that messages regarding adolescent sexual health remained culturally appropriate and also empowered residents to tackle other issues of community concern.
Plain Talk succeeded in accomplishing several goals related to adolescent sexual health in the communities of Plain Talk. Evaluation found that—
- The percentage of young women who experienced pregnancy declined from 54.5 percent in 1994 to 33.6 percent in 1998.
- Sexually active youth who had discussed birth control with an adult were about half as likely, on average, to cause or experience a pregnancy as peers who had no such communication.
- The proportion of sexually experienced youth who had spoken with an adult about birth control, pregnancy, or STI increased from 61 percent in 1994 to 70 percent in 1998.2
Plain Talk successfully mobilized communities to protect young people from the risks associated with pregnancy and HIV and other STIs. It did not attempt to prevent, nor to encourage, teens' having sexual intercourse.
- Adapted and printed with permission from the Annie E. Casey Foundation's Web materials on the Plain Talk initiative, http://www.aecf.org/publications/plaintalk/.
- Grossman JB et al. Adult Communication and Teen Sex: Changing a Community. Philadelphia, PA: Public/Private Ventures, 2001.
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Transitions (ISSN 1097-1254) © 2002, is a quarterly publication of Advocates for Youth—Helping young people make safe and responsible decisions about sex. For permission to reprint, contact Transitions' editor at 202.419.3420.
Editor: Sue Alford