S-E-X was on the minds of many Jefferson County residents who were asked to rank the issues that worry them the most in their community.
The findings of the Assessment of Needs for Children and Families in Jefferson County were recently released and the report’s authors were surprised by the top two issues raised: Teenagers not practicing safe sex and teens having sex too young.
Julie Preskitt, a professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Public Health and author of the report, said the findings will be used by social service agencies to create programming.
About 249 people from areas throughout Jefferson County participated in the survey. While the sample is small, Preskitt said the group is a good representation of the county’s population.
Survey participants were asked to think about issues and then decide the importance of those issues based on a scale of 1 to 10 – 1 being one of the biggest problems and 10 not being a problem at all. Most thought sex was of very high importance.
About 65 percent of respondents thought “teens not practicing safe sex” was a big problem. And nearly 64 percent of the respondents though teens having sex at too young of an age was a big problem.
The respondents were not asked to elaborate their answers for the survey, but some people who participated in focus groups for the project were able to talk about why they felt it was a problem. The focus groups were held in areas of the county where survey participation was low, and a focus group was also held for the Latino community. “The focus groups add richness to the conversations,” Preskitt said.
“A lot of parents are not talking to their kids about sex,” one focus group participant said. “And kids and teenagers, especially, are not feeling comfortable talking to their parents.”
The other top two issues of concern were bullying and unsafe driving habits, with about 59 percent and 56 percent of respondents ranking them big problems respectively.
Another finding in the study: People are looking for help to be better parents and create stronger families. Mentoring and role models for families indicated as important.
Said one focus group participant, “So many of them have never known how to be a parent. They weren’t cared for, so you just do what you were taught. I am not going to say they don’t care, I just don’t think they have the knowledge.”
The Assessment of Needs for Children and Families in Jefferson County was funded by a grant from the UAB School of Community Health for the Children’s Policy Council of Jefferson County.
In addition to the statistics collected from the surveys, GIS mapping was also used to show which ZIP codes the responses originated from. The mapping could potentially help agencies determine which areas of the county need which services more than others. That detail, Preskitt said, will provide even greater knowledge to social service agencies.
For information or a copy of the report contact Jennifer Kilburn with the Children’s Policy Council at (205) 325-5445.