To What Extent Are You Reaching Your Target Population?

Whether youth attend sex education programs as a result of referral or on a voluntary basis, staff must work especially hard to make sure they are reaching the population of teens who would most benefit from the program. Thus, a program may wish to target teens exposed to several risk factors for teen pregnancy – for example, a lack of parental support, poor academic performance, poverty, and being raised by a single parent  (for a more complete list of risk factors, see “To What Extent Are You Targeting Factors Known to Affect Sexual Behavior?”).

Depending on the needs of your community, you may choose to target your population by additional characteristics such as gender, age, or living in a particular geographic area. For example, if your community has a high proportion of youth who become sexually active at an early age, then targeting pre-adolescents who are at risk of teen pregnancy is a reasonable approach.

Once the target population has been defined, program recruitment and intake processes can use eligibility criteria to ensure that the program enrolls young people who are members of this population.

Some individual risk factors, such as age of first sexual experience, may not be appropriate enrollment criteria. Instead, it is important –after enrollment – to examine whether the population being served matches the intended target population in terms of these characteristics. In order to assess participant characteristics that may not be known at intake, program staff should collect information from youth directly by administering a questionnaire at the beginning of the program.  Collecting information on participants prior to or at the start of a program is known as collecting baseline information. Baseline information can inform you whether you are reaching:

  • The desired age range (if you intended to serve youth between the ages of 16 and 20, but your initial group of attendees has an average age of 12, then there is a mismatch between your intended service population and the group that actually participates)
  • The intended risk level (if the program is for high risk youth as defined by their having at least three of five risk factors, then the data should show that all teens have at least three of those risk factors.)
  • The desired population (if the program is for teens living in a particular community, then data should show that all teens reside in that community).
  • The desired family income level (if your program wishes to offer services to disadvantaged youth, then data should show that all youth are eligible for free and reduced lunch, for example).

If your program is not reaching your target population or the population outlined by the eligibility criteria for your program, it is important to examine reasons why. Depending on the cause of this mismatch, you may need to alter recruitment strategies or assess why the youth you intend to reach are less likely to join the program. You may also wish to re-assess the specific conditions and needs present in your community to identify whether your program is targeting the appropriate population.




Sources Cited

Kirby, D. (2007). Emerging answers: Research findings on programs to reduce teen pregnancy. Washington, D.C.: National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy. Available at