Thursday, March 06, 2008
Teen clinic is a good way to talk about sex
Read Shanna's blog
Shanna Flowers is The Roanoke Times' metro columnist.
Beginning this afternoon, area teens again will have a place to seek knowledgeable advice about sexual health.
With teen pregnancy rates on the rise, thank goodness Planned Parenthood Health Systems has reopened its teens-only clinic for a few hours every month.
From 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of each month, high school and middle school students can drop by the Peters Creek Road facility for free, professional help with confidential services including birth control, pregnancy testing, gynecological exams and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.
Abortions will not be offered as part of the clinic. But abstinence will be part of the comprehensive and essential discussion about sexual health.
Ideally, parents would take the lead in talking with their teens about such matters. But if mom and dad don't have that kind of relationship with their children, Planned Parenthood is a great backup.
The staff offers young people sound advice that will help them make informed decisions.
The clinic's staff encourages appointments, but walk-ins also are welcome. If a girl wants birth control pills or patches, the first three months are free. After that, she will have to pay for them. Condoms are free.
"We're trying to reduce all the potential barriers that keep sexually active teens from seeking contraception and comprehensive information about sexuality," said David Nova, vice president of Planned Parenthood. "Teens know if you walk in Planned Parenthood, you're not going to be judged. We want them to be able to ask questions."
The organization closed the teen clinic for about six months after a merger with the North Carolina Planned Parenthood. As the two operations joined forces, some programs were put on hold.
But disturbing statistics indicate the timing couldn't be better for reopening the clinic.
In a troubling reversal, the national teen birth rate recently posted increases for the first time in 15 years. The birth rate had been on the decline since it peaked in 1991. But it rose 3 percent from 2005 to 2006.
In the state health department's planning District 5, which is made up of Alleghany, Botetourt, Craig and Roanoke counties and Roanoke, Covington and Salem, the pregnancy rate increased by 10 percent in the same time period, according to state statistics.
Nova said the clinic previously served about 20 to 22 youngsters each month. It cost about $1,200 a month to operate a few years ago, and is funded with grant money.
Ultimately, the free teen clinic doesn't let parents off the hook. But it can act as a way to enable more open communication between teen and parent about sexuality.