Early in my career, I received a call at work from a young woman in crisis. She asked where she could place a baby for adoption. When I asked how far along her pregnancy was, I learned she had delivered her baby the night before in her dorm room…without the benefit of a doctor, midwife, hospital, prenatal care or family support. Fearful that her parents would find out, she refused my pleas to seek immediate medical care for her and her baby’s health.

While many parents talk openly and honestly with their teens about sex, the data tell us that many more are either unapproachable or focus solely on how to prevent their teens from having sex. In doing so, they refrain from any dialogue about where or how to get contraception, and how to use it. For marginalized teens – foster children, LGBTQ teens, those from non-accepting families, etc. – the information deficit is even greater.

Teens are entitled by law to a range of confidential sexual and reproductive health care services without the consent of their parent(s) or guardian. Yet most don’t know how to access them. The statistics about teen pregnancy, sexual activity, STDs, HIV/AIDs and even suicide reflect this lack of health care access, education, and guidance.

By the age of 18, nearly 70% of teens will have engaged in vaginal intercourse. Three quarters of them will not be using highly effective birth control. AskableAdults can change these statistics, and these teens’ lives. They can help prevent teen pregnancy, reduce sexually transmitted diseases (STD) and HIV/AIDS transmission and help avert teen suicide and intimate partner violence.

What is an AskableAdult? If you work with or support teens, you could be one.

At our Leading the Way Conference on November 30 in Philadelphia, I will be teaching youth-serving professionals how to become an AskableAdult, by becoming more approachable and knowledgeable about sexual and reproductive health care. What does this mean? It doesn’t mean these new AskableAdults need to know everything about sexual health. It does mean they need to be willing to talk openly with teens, listen carefully and non-judgmentally, and provide information and referrals about sexual and reproductive health.

Participants will learn how to have honest and respectful conversations with youth about sexuality, how to support teens in making healthy decisions about their sexuality, how to give non-judgmental advice, and how to provide referrals to community resources. We’ll discuss sexual behavior, decision-making and adolescent development, referral resources, and legal, professional and ethical criteria to determine boundaries.

Perhaps most important, we will teach professionals who work with teens how to make being an AskableAdult a natural part of their work.

Imagine if the teen who called me had encountered an AskableAdult somewhere in her life – a person she could have had honest and respectful communications with and who could have helped her make healthy decisions about her sexuality. How might her story have turned out differently? She may have delayed sex, used birth control or protected herself from an STD. If she had engaged in unprotected sex, she may have used emergency contraception. If she had gotten pregnant, she may have accessed information and guidance for her pregnancy options so that she could make an informed choice. She may have obtained prenatal care and delivered her baby in the safety of a hospital, or she may have found support for a decision to terminate the pregnancy or to place the baby for adoption.

Imagine the difference one AskableAdult could have made for this teen – and many others in Philadelphia and across the country.

Interested in becoming an AskableAdult, or having us train your staff? Contact AccessMatters at info@accessmatters.

For registration info for our 2016 Leading the Way conference, featuring an AskableAdults Matter workshop, visit: www.leadingtheway2016.eventbrite.com