Safe sex is a serious topic. Yet, the dozen teenagers who came to Planned Parenthood's Ophelia Egypt Clinic on Minnesota Avenue NE on a recent Wednesday bopped to the beats of a DJ who had set up a turntable and speakers in the parking lot.
"Safe sex! C'mon y'all, let's hear some rhymes about safe sex!" a Planned Parenthood staff member implored the crowd.
Navawanna Baccous, 15, a ninth-grader at Friendship Edison Collegiate Academy, stepped to the mike to begin pop singer Beyonce's song about asking a boyfriend to hold off on sex. After her applause-drawing performance, Baccous said she could identify with the lyrics because she plans to abstain from sex through high school.
"For me, the answer is always going to be no," she said, jangling oversize, star-shaped white earrings.
Planned Parenthood operates five clinics in the region, including two in the District. About 100 teenagers and young adults helped celebrate the first anniversary of the teen medical education clinic at the Ophelia Egypt Clinic.
Staff members meet with teenagers and young adults on the third Wednesday of each month from 3:30 to 7:30 p.m. and the first Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Those 15 to 25 years old can attend sex education seminars taught by young people. Participants fill out health information forms, and HIV tests are offered with results in 20 minutes.
And then there are the kinds of emotional problems that nurse practitioner Linda Duquette-Petersen said she keeps hearing about. Girls who have been sexually abused. Depression. Some have mental health problems for which the sufferers need more help than she can provide.
"They need someone to talk to about the other things and issues going on in their lives," Duquette-Petersen said.
In its first year of operation, the clinic has served more than 500 teenagers and young adults. The Department of Mental Health will work with Planned Parenthood to supply the clinic with a director of mental health services, a licensed social worker and a case manager. When nurses want to refer a patient for mental health services, there will be someone in-house to talk to, instead of an unfamiliar name and phone number to call.
Duquette-Petersen said she often finds herself calling back patients to see if they've followed through. "If we can refer them down the hall, we can cut down on that follow-up time," she said.
The Department of Mental Health estimates that there are 9,000 children in the city with mental health issues, who are often described as emotionally disturbed. Director Martha B. Knisley said that the department has been trying to bring its services to more young people. As part of that effort, it has certified the Latin American Youth Center, Planned Parenthood and others to provide services. Nine more agencies are awaiting certification by the city, Knisley said.
There were 1,100 children receiving mental health treatment in 2002. Now there are 3,000. Knisley attributed the rise to the outreach efforts.
"If you're not providing mental health services, there's a greater chance that children might be removed from their homes or have greater problems by not having early intervention, prevention and treatment," Knisley said.
She said the department is looking to continue putting its staff out into the community. For example, there are 31 staff members in city schools, and the department is looking to work in five additional schools next year, she said.