From the Imprint–Six years ago, when Zoë Jones-Walton was about to turn 18, she sat in a windowless Dallas-area conference room with dozens of other foster youth. A series of lectures on how to navigate adulthood covered the gamut: How to write a check, how to land a job, how to get an apartment — and how to avoid unwanted pregnancies. That exercise involved placing a condom on a banana to learn about safe sex.
“They put everything in this one week and you’re supposed to just be like — ‘OK, I’m going to remember all this when I’m out on my own in the world,’” said Jones-Walton.
Now 25 and working as an advocate, she noted dryly: “I haven’t.
”A recent study commissioned by the federal government found foster youth face “disproportionate risk of poor sexual health outcomes.” But — like many of her peers nationwide in the child welfare system — Jones-Walton received only scant information about intimacy and relationships. The banana demonstration was the first and only lesson she received on that front, she recalled in a recent interview.
These days, Jones-Walton is part of a unique push to broaden this critical guidance for teenagers in the state’s custody. The Texas Foster Youth Health Initiative’s efforts involve smaller groups of 10 to 15 young people and weekly discussions rather than a one-time lecture.