Lynn Monty, Editor in chief

Attendees share resources at a national training led by Youth Catalytics for more than 200 adolescent health professionals in March. Courtesy photo.

Young people in every zip code should have access to the vital information and resources they desperately need in their exploratory and sometimes angst-filled time of growing and learning. Teen pregnancy, homelessness and abuse are some of the issues Charlotte nonprofit Youth Catalytics has been tackling since the early 1980s through schools, clinics and on the streets in Vermont and beyond.

Last month the Office of Adolescent Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services informed Youth Catalytics that it was rescinding a $2 million-plus federal grant they had been awarded for pregnancy-prevention work. This five-year grant began in 2016 with $564,000 in funding. The remaining four years of the grant have been terminated. Scheduled training and research was halted just when new programing was gaining momentum, said Meagan Downey, Youth Catalytics Director of Special Projects.

Along with her colleagues and legal counsel, Downey, of Shelburne, has reviewed the Health and Human Services federal regulations and policy procedures. As a result of the research, a letter of appeal has been sent. “This is not something they can do according to their own regulations because they gave us no substantive reason,” Downey said. “Our legal counsel is on it, and we would like to exhaust every administrative remedy.”

Nationally there has been a 41 percent decline in the teen pregnancy rate from 2010 to 2016, according to Downey. “That’s impressive, but the work isn’t done,” she said. “One in four teen girls will get pregnant before she’s 20, so having the program cut off at the knees like this was a shock to everyone involved.”

Youth Catalytics isn’t alone. More than 80 other organizations nationwide will lose about $200 million in teen pregnancy prevention grants. Of these, Youth Catalytics and four others with related grants were cut off this year, while others will not be cut off until next year. The reason for this is unknown, Downey said.

“We were coming off of a really awesome first year, and some of our staff were still working, collaborating with the federal government before the July 4 holiday, so we were clearly confused to hear the news,” she said.

Requests for assistance still flood the Charlotte office. The nonprofit had just delivered a successful national training to over 200 youth-serving professionals and was working collaboratively with partners and federal staff to produce resources to build healthier communities for young people nationwide. “We are really trying to find some private donations to help us be more nimble to help,” Downey said.

With the Trump administration many feared looming proposed cuts, Downey said. “But what is really unusual here, and troubling, is these were actual cuts that were made before they were authorized by Congress,”

Youth Catalytics is not currently in litigation. “We are attempting to resolve the matter to help them understand that they are in violation of their own rules,” Downey said of the Health and Human Services decision. “We are helping them to see that they made an error.”

In an open letter Youth Catalytics announced, “We hope to resolve this matter with U.S. Department of Health and Human Services quickly so that we can return to our work supporting evidence-based programs. In the meantime, we applaud Sen. Patty Murray and other legislators who are publicly questioning Secretary of Health and Human Services Price about this decision, and more specifically about why the notification seeking to end grants was made in advance of Congressional action on FY 2018 appropriations.”

More than 35 United States senators, including Vermont’s Pat Leahy and Bernie Sanders, signed a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price last week. They called the decision to rescind the grant “short-sighted and puts at risk the health and well-being of women and our most vulnerable youth.”

Though the name and some programs have changed over the years, Youth Catalytics mission stays the same, to serve youth who need a lifeline. At home, youth-serving organizations like Spectrum and Lund benefit from their work.

Spectrum Director of Development and Communications Sarah Woodard said, “Many nonprofits use all of their available resources on direct services to their clients, and so organizations like Youth Catalytics are a key resource for nonprofits who want to provide quality services but don’t have the capacity to create new programs from scratch, or who need help, as we did, with a thoughtful strategic planning process.”

And nationally, Youth Catalytics touches lives as far away as Texas. Courtney Peters of North Texas Alliance to Reduce Unintended Pregnancy in Teens, has personally worked closely with Downey. “Youth Catalytics abruptly lost their funding, and my organization lost its funding effective July 2018,” she said. “It is absolutely devastating. From a public health perspective, it is beyond disheartening that such amazing work has been cut short. Teens and families were and are counting on us, and our hands are tied.”

Research proves teen pregnancy prevention works, Peters said. “It is reckless to cut a program short right in the middle of its implementation,” she said. “Prevention saves taxpayer dollars and improves the lives of teens and families in this country. We need to move forward, not backward, and we cannot succeed as a nation if we refuse to fund evidence-based programs that make a true difference.”