(CNSNews.com) – The city-run Teen Wellness Center at T.C. Williams High School in Alexandria, Va., offers health and family planning services to “teens” ages 12 to 19 who are residents of the city, services that include free made-in-India condoms for any patient who wants to take them from a glass jar located in the lobby.
Dr. Stephen Haering is director of the Alexandria Health Department, a subdivision of the Virginia Department of Health. His department is charged with oversight of the Teen Wellness Center’s policies and practices.
In a telephone interview with Dr. Haering, CNSNews.com asked, “So, back to the question of the jar, those [condoms] are for anybody who is a patient, who could be anyone from 12 to 19 who comes into the clinic, that is correct, though, correct?”
Haering said: “Anybody who is a patient, yes.”
He also said, “The condom distribution is intended only for those who are patients of the clinic” and “that anybody that’s coming who’s sexually active, we advise them, we highly recommend that they include their parents.”
The large glass jar at the Teen Wellness Center contained dozens of free “LifeStyles, Ultra Lubricated” latex condoms that were made in Bangalore, India.
As for the patient age bracket of 12-19, Dr. Haering explained that the “ages for the Teen Wellness Center was set by the city and the schools some time ago, back when the Adolescent Health Center started. I think, back in 1984 or something.”
“The actual age [of patients] served at the Teen Welness Center was something that was established decades ago,” he said, “probably a collaboration between the health department, city council and the schools.” Dr. Haering was appointed director of the Alexandria Health Department on Aug.1, 2010.
The Teen Wellness Center, located inside the T.C. Williams High School at 3330 King Street in Alexandria, is a collaborative effort of the Alexandria City Public Schools, Alexandria Health Department, Alexandria Community Services Board, and “parents and community representatives,” states the Wellness Center’s page at the City of Alexandria Web site.
The Teen Wellness Center has been at the high school since 2010 and it “provides a variety of health services to youth between the ages of 12-19 years,” reads the Web site. “All services are FREE & CONFIDENTIAL.”
When it comes to treating minor illnesses, “immunizations, and physical examinations required for schools, participation in sports, employment, and the Special Olympics,” the page states that, “Written parental consent is required before any of the aforementioned services can be provided.”
But no parental notification is needed for sex-related services, including birth control.
As the Web site states: “In addition, the Teen Wellness Center provides health education, behavior change counseling, pregnancy testing, diagnosis and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases, reproductive health services (to include provision of birth control methods), and mental health and substance abuse counseling. State law permits these services to be offered without parental consent.”
In an interview with CNSNews.com, Dr. Haering said that teens are urged to get their parents involved.
“We always encourage our teen patients when they come to us to include their parents in on any decision-making that involves their health and involves their health care,” said the doctor.
He also said teens are told that abstinence is the “healthiest choice” and that they should delay sex “until they are much older.”
But, Haering said, “There are some people who in life take the second best choice and they’re going to choose to not be abstinent or to not delay sexual activity. And for them we do offer birth control options.”
When asked if that applied to all patients ages 12 to 19, Haering confirmed that it did. But he said patients ages 15 and under would also be referred to Social Services.
“We will provide them the service, the birth control service, and do all the counseling,” he said, “but we would also refer them to the Department of Social Services, and that’s in accordance with state law.”
“By state law, a 12-year-old who’s sexually active, that is considered rape,” said Dr. Haering.
Teens who go to the Teen Wellness Center to get condoms or counseling on birth control do not need parental consent. “That’s correct,” said Dr. Haering. “There’s lot of federal services by state law that minors are deemed to be an adult for, consent of services, and those include family planning services – not sterilization -- but other family planning services, including birth control.”
He continued: “If a minor comes in and the prevention hasn’t worked and they’re already pregnant, then we talk to them and provide them information about continuing the pregnancy, about pregnancy resources, local pregnancy resources.”
“Title X requires that we discuss the three options of parenting, of adoption services, and of termination,” said Dr. Haering.
When asked if that included youth ages 12 and up, Dr. Haering said, “It’s for anybody receiving family planning services, yes. That’s a Title X requirement.”
Title X, public law 91-572, was enacted in 1970 as Title X of the Public Health Service Act. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, “Title X is the only Federal grant program dedicated solely to providing individuals with comprehensive family planning and related preventive health services. The Title X program is designed to provide access to contraceptive services, supplies and information to all who want and need them. By law, priority is given to persons from low-income families.”
Although the Alexandria Health Department oversees the center, all expenses of the center, including the staff, are paid for by the City of Alexandria.