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HHS Updates Evidence-Based Program List, Still Fails to Consider Program Content

HHS Updates Evidence-Based Program List, Still Fails to Consider Program Content

On August 12, 2014, the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) released updates and new additions to the Health and Human Services (HHS) Evidence-based Teen Pregnancy Prevention Programs list. The revised list of 35 programs includes four new additions including: Families Talking Together (for mothers of adolescents); HIP Teens (for low income, urban, sexually active adolescent girls); Project IMAGE (for ethnic minority young women with a history of sexual or physical abuse and STIs); and STRIVE (a family-based intervention for youth who have recently run away from home). In conjunction with the release of the updated list, HHS launched a new Teen Pregnancy Prevention Evidence Review website that includes a searchable program database and additional information on the program and evidence review process.

While SIECUS is pleased with the addition of these four programs to the list and the availability of further information on the new website, we are discouraged by the administration’s failure to address the limited scope of the evidence review criteria and process.

Federal adolescent sexual health promotion program grantees, through the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative (TPPI) and the Personal Responsibility Education Program (PREP), are either required to select programs from this list to replicate, as is the case for TPPI Tier 1 grantees, or are highly encouraged to make their program selection from these evidence-based programs. Beyond the reach of federally funded programs, state and local program administrators look to HHS for guidance in program selection and perceive programs included on an HHS “evidence-based” list to have federal approval and endorsement. Despite new disclaimer language on the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Evidence Review website stating that that meeting the review criteria “does not indicate HHS endorsement of a program model,” inclusion on the list alone implies otherwise.

Additionally, while new text on the program list website represents the first time HHS has explicitly prefaced the program list with the explanation that the review process “does not examine curriculum content to make assessments about whether a program is medically or scientifically accurate, or inclusive of populations that are diverse in terms of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and sexual identity,” this admission does not make-up for the lack of consideration of program content and medically accuracy—the latter of which is statutorily required for TPPI and PREP—as critical components that should be incorporated into the program review criteria and approval process.

SIECUS remains concerned that the administration continues to implicitly support programs that have not undergone a content or medical accuracy review; particularly since the Heritage Keepers program, added to the list in 2012, perpetuates gender stereotypes, ostracizes lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth, and withholds or misconstrues lifesaving information. (Read more about these concerns or quotes straight from the source.)

While we are also disappointed by the administrations’ perpetuation of a narrow approach to evidence review in identifying “effective” programs that have positive impacts on sexual risk behavior and sexual health outcomes, we are encouraged by HHS’ stated commitment to consult with leading experts and strengthen the review criteria in the future. SIECUS looks forward to continued discussions with HHS adolescent health leadership in this effort and in the shared goal of equipping young people with the information and skills they have the right to and need to lead sexually healthy lives.

Today’s release is the third revision to the evidence-based program list since the 2009 establishment of the Office of Adolescent Health (OAH) and TPPI. More information on the review process and programs currently on the list are available on the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Evidence Review website.

For more information or questions, please contact Jesseca Boyer at or 202-265-2405.