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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Effectiveness of US Abstinence Programs Said Difficult To Gauge

Efforts by the U.S. government and states to assess the scientific accuracy of materials used in abstinence-until-marriage education programs have been limited. The effectiveness of programs to promote no sex before marriage is also hazy, according to a government watchdog agency.

The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provides funding to states and organizations that provide abstinence-until-marriage education. The Administration for Children and Families (ACF) and the Office of Population Affairs (OPA) within HHS award grants for these programs.

ACF—which awards grants to two programs that account for the largest portion of federal spending on abstinence-until-marriage education—does not review its grantees’ education materials for scientific accuracy and does not require grantees of either program to review their own materials for scientific accuracy, says a new report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), the nonpartisan investigative arm of Congress.

By contrast, OPA does review the scientific accuracy of grantees’ proposed educational materials. In addition, not all states that receive funding from ACF have chosen to review their program materials for scientific accuracy, GAO finds.

"For example, one state official described an instance in which abstinence-until-marriage materials incorrectly suggested that HIV can pass through condoms because the latex used in condoms is porous," GAO says.

A number of factors limit the conclusions that can be drawn about the effectiveness of abstinence-until-marriage education programs, according to GAO.

"Most of the efforts to evaluate the effectiveness of abstinence-until-marriage education programs included in GAO’s review have not met certain minimum scientific criteria—such as random assignment of participants and sufficient follow-up periods and sample sizes—that experts have concluded are necessary in order for assessments of program effectiveness to be scientifically valid, in part because such designs can be expensive and time-consuming to carry out," GAO says. "In addition, the results of efforts that meet the criteria of a scientifically valid assessment have varied and two key studies funded by HHS that meet these criteria have not yet been completed."

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