The Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health: A History

(2002) Former CWLU health activist Jenny Knauss was Executive Director of the Caucus from 1983-2002, working tirelessly on behalf of Illinois young people. The Caucus is a good example of the kind of grassroots health organization that CWLU health activists had advocated.

(From their 25th anniversary celebration booklet- 2002)

(Editor's Note: In the 1970's CWLU health activists worked to organize grassroots health programs for women. After the dissolution of the CWLU, many of these women continued their work of reforming our health system. One of them was Jenny Knauss who was named Executive Director of the Illinois Caucus on Teenage Pregnancy in 1983. Jenny retired at the end of 2002 after guiding the Caucus for nearly 20 years. This history was distributed at their 25th anniversary celebration. A number of former CWLUers attended this emotionally moving event.)

First birth control pill available in the U. S. Soon after, Planned Parenthood dispensed birth control at bedsides in Cook County Hospital (CCH).

Mary Jane Snyder, Planned Parenthood leader and one of the Caucus founders was speaking at schools, including at least one Catholic High School, about family planning.

Chicago Board of Education set up a 3 year project with Chicago Comprehensive Care Centers in a YWCA building.

The Illinois legislature passed a "Sex Education Act", a permissive non- mandatory bill encouraging promotion of sex education in schools.

Chicago Public Schools set up a "family living center " in a church, "very hush hush". Dr Carl Meyer signed an executive order approving the dispensing of birth control in Cook County Hospital. In that period CCH was the second largest OB/GYN unit in the world with 20,000 births a year. In less than a decade after Meyer's order, the number of births to all women dropped to 13,500. 

Dr. Robert Mendelsohn issued a "Score Board of Death" (or "Where are 1000 poor children and 1000 rich children after 6 years?"). He compared the number of deaths per 1000 children from East Garfield Park and Lawndale (120) with those born in Highland Park and Glencoe (18).

The Urban Preceptorship Program was started by Dr Quentin Young at University of Illinois, Chicago, providing courses for mixed groups of medical students, nurses and community health workers, who learned about the health care system from each other as well as from progressive mentors. A state law legalizing family planning services for unmarried teens was passed after strong advocacy from physicians like Dr. Donald Dye at CCH. This followed the birth of twins to an 11 year old girl who could not receive family planning services at CCH because of her age. Also in 1969 Chicago Women's Liberation Union (CWLU) was founded. Jane, an underground illegal abortion service, which became part of the CWLU, was already active. CWLU health work included pregnancy testing.

Planned Parenthood set up Teen Scenes, a teen center, at Cook County Hospital.

Our Bodies Ourselves courses were started, and given in some schools.

An active group opposing sterilization abuse (CESA) was formed in the city which included the Puerto Rican Socialist Party and the CWLU.

Austin Youth Health Center was established as a clinic in a High School (followed by a number of other schools). The Illinois Caucus on Teenage Pregnancy (ICTP) was initiated following a conference to discuss the national problem of increasing teenage pregnancy. United Way provided a part-time staff person — Suzanne Hinds.

The Statewide Taskforce on Adolescent Parent Support Services was created by the state legislature in response to a House Resolution brought by the Conference of Women Legislators. The Taskforce, which was chaired by Frances Ginther from the Chicago Department of Public Health, reviewed the extent of the problem of adolescent pregnancy in Illinois, did a preliminary review of services currently available and developed goals with recommended actions. A number of ICTP members, as well as state legislators Jane Bames, Barbara Flynn Currie and Carol Moseley Braun were actively involved. The Caucus was incorporated. Ginther was chair of the Board from 1980-82. The first membership brochure was created. 

In June 1982 Dorothy Scheff wrote two letters. One was to William Kempiners, Director of the Illinois Dept. of Public Health in Spningfield, informing him that "the Board of Directors of the Illinois Caucus on Teenage Pregnancy has studied carefully the draft report of the Statewide Task Force on Adolescent Parent Support Services", which recommended that the Caucus accept responsibility for oversight and implementation of the plan developed by the Task Force. She reported that the Board accepted the assignment with enthusiasm. She also noted that this step meant "expanding our perspectives as we work to coordinate specific policies and programs of both public and private agencies 'in Illinois" and stressed that "the Caucus Board is pleased with the confidence shown 'in us". She appreciated the leadership of the Department in creating the climate for such collaborative efforts on the part of young people "which, if they are adopted, will change the character of this organization." She said that the Caucus Board had considered carefully what such an alliance with the state would mean to the autonomy of the Caucus, its freedom of expression and ability to work for and against legislation. On balance, the Board had decided that "the opportunity to coordinate and develop comprehensive services and programs and make a major impact on the teen pregnancy program 'in its broadest perspective overrode reservations about such a public/private alliance". $30,000 from the state was made available.

The other letter went to United Way, pointing out that "if we are to perform responsibly, the Caucus must develop a professional structure far different from our present mode of operation". She said that, through Suzanne Hinds, the United Way Planning Associate, United Way had "nurtured us through our development years" and asked if it would continue that support through at least 6 months during a planning period. UW agreed to help formulate a budget, provide help until full time staff was available, help the Caucus in approaching state agencies for funding and exploring private foundations.

Jenny Knauss was hired early in the year as the Executive Director and charged with carrying out the recommendations of the Statewide Taskforce. Her first task was to write proposals for private funding. The first successful proposal was to the Joyce Foundation, which provided a grant for statewide work. This enabled the Caucus to hire Bunny Shupe in September. Bunny was based in Carbondale in Southern Illinois, and was also very familiar with the Champaign area. She began to organize downstate local chapters, developing pregnancy prevention activities in as many counties as possible.

We published a directory of statewide resources for pregnant and parenting youth. The Caucus also received a grant from the Carnegie Corporation to assist schools across the state to develop pregnancy prevention activities. This enabled Bunny to initiate partnerships with key education systems and to visit many downstate schools. We were invited to New York a year later to report to the Corporation on our findings. Annetta Wilson joined the team as a community organizer in the year, charged with outreach to youth and adults in Chicago communities, particularly working with schools to ensure that pregnant and parenting girls were receiving the services they needed, with funding from the Harris Foundation. She was a actively involved with the Homeless Task Force housed at the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, which worked to expand access to shelter for homeless youth. The Caucus and the Ounce of Prevention Fund, in cooperation with the Illinois Parents Too Soon (a state program) co-sponsored a conference in Chicago on "Teenage Pregnancy, a Community Responsibility: A Statewide Leadership Conference", inviting people from other states and examining success with model programs like school-based clinics and innovative curricula for pregnancy prevention.

The Caucus held a conference in Northwestern Illinois Crisis in the Rural Family, on the effect of the farm crisis on rural families. The discussion was very moving- , we got good press coverage and were able to draw attention across the state to the plight of farm families. Membership in the Caucus had grown and in April and May of 1985, the Caucus held 25 chapter meetings across the state. We also testified before the Illinois State Board of Education on schools and teen pregnancy, following a report which we issued. Annetta Wilson developed a housing directory for homeless youth in Chicago, which has been updated over the years. We worked closely with community agencies like Marillac House and produced a housing directory for communities, working with the Chicago Department of Human Services. We met with representatives of the Governor to discuss housing needs.

We were invited by the state Parents Too Soon Program to work in collaboration with them, the Ounce of Prevention and the Illinois State Board of Education to develop a plan for the use of Carl Perkins federal funding for teenage single parents - the "Building Opportunity" program. We developed such a system, and were all invited to fly to Ohio to share it with that state 's equivalent agency. We had our first major youth program when Annetta Wilson brought young people in Chicago to spend a morning with Oprah Winfrey. It was called "Teens SpeakOut with Oprah Winfrey". We taped it with her permission, and the auditorium was packed. Youth were able to go on stage and tell Oprah about their lives. She asked them questions, gave advice and told them about her youth. Every one was very pleased with the program, and Oprah appeared to be also, but her professional handlers later threatened to sue the Caucus if the tape was ever used in public. The youth were very disappointed, however they wanted to continue to work with us, and became the first Youth Advisory Board for the organization. We also developed a Youth Speaker's Bureau. A statewide conference was held on "Strategies for Pregnancy Prevention in Early Adolescence" which featured successful programs in other states.

With two other agencies, we designed a job description and training program for a Teen Advocate to work in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) to prevent girls who were pregnant or parenting from dropping out. Our advocacy was successful and we received an award from CPS. The Pittway Corporate Foundation helped us provide in services for Chicago Public School teachers on HIV, using materials we had brought in from California which was much further ahead on the issue than any groups in the Midwest at the time. We also published a report entitled "Homeless in Chicago: the Case of Pregnant and Parenting Youth" which was well received, and a pamphlet: "The Young Parents Resource Network".

A Statewide Training and Information Center was established out of our Carbondale office. We also initiated a network to monitor the impact of the Family Support Act on teen parents on AFDC. A girl from our Youth Peer Speakers Bureau made a presentation about on our youth work at the Children's Defense Fund national conference in Washington DC.

We held a statewide conference titled "ADVOCATE!" 'in Collinsville IL. We continued to gather information on teen parent school drop-outs, and published brochures for young parents and adults on legal issues. We also advocated successfully, with other groups, for the first school-based day care center, at Orr High School.

We held a statewide conference, "Tough Decisions". We initiated the Chicago Policy Project, expanding our policy staff and providing technical assistance to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) on working with pregnant and parenting wards of the state. Most important was our decision to systematically base our year by year program work on the information we had gathered directly from diverse groups of youth, through focus groups, interviews and informal contacts. From that point on, we followed that path, consistently asking youth about issues in their lives.

The Cooperative Living program was initiated by DCFS. The Caucus became the lead agency for ensuring of young mothers and their children in the DCFS system were being appropriately met in East St. Louis, Champaign and Chicago. Jenny and Annetta also began a series meetings with Dense Kane, the DCFS Inspector General to discuss the needs of young people. Jenny was asked to sit on the newly formed State HIV prevention group: she and Annetta held that position for over 10 years.

The name of the organization was changed to the Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, reflecting the fact that our work was now moving far beyond teenage pregnancy issues to many others related to broader adolescent health. This year's statewide conference was titled "Together: Schools and Communities Confront the Challenge of Teen Pregnancy", and it was aimed particularly at school personnel. We also published a report recommending a youth prevention agenda, aimed at policy makers. We became a partner in the Night Ministry Shelter network, updating the report we had issued in 1987 and advocating with other groups like the Coalition for the Homeless for attention to issues homeless youth faced, including the right to attend school. We began to work more closely with national groups and build connections with other states. Caucus staff were invited to sit on the SIECUS (Sexuality Information and Education Council of the U.S.) Community Advisory Committee in New York City, which enabled us to broaden our thinking about youth and sexuality in discussions with colleagues from a number of states, including Barbara Huberman, then Director of the North Carolina equivalent of the Caucus. We continue to maintain a useful connection with her in her most recent job at Advocates for Youth in Washington. We were also invited by the Washington DC based Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) to speak at their conference about our work in Chicago. We have maintained regular communication with these groups over the years. We joined the Child Welfare League of America where we expanded our work to advocate for children in the child welfare system, working to help them use their strengths, and developing community capacity.

We held a conference in Oakbrook, titled "The Challenge of Lean Times" co-sponsored by Ounce of Prevention Fund. The keynote speaker was Dr. Joycelyn Elders, former US Surgeon General. We published a pamphlet based on interviews with young women and providers, on parental notification for abortion. We also organized statewide hearings on teen pregnancy with Citizen's Assembly, and published a synopsis as a report for policy makers. We initiated the Adolescent Women's Roundtable in Chicago, to get the voices of teen parents heard. We continued to be lead agency for the state funded Cooperative Living Program in Chicago, overseeing the work of several community agencies which housed pregnant or parenting girls who were wards of the state. We published "An Action Plan To Improve the Health of Adolescent Women in Chicago", reflecting 'intensive information gathering though interviews and focus groups to understand the issues faced by adolescent women, and their visions for improved health care, developed by Kate McLachlan.

We followed our report on young women in Chicago with a series of similar reports (Assessment of Adolescent Needs and Services) on youth of both sexes in 12 downstate counties, funded by the IL. Department of Human Services. Girls and boys were interviewed, and follow up discussions held with parents, teachers and other community members about their view of the needs of youth 'in the county. Where possible, we presented at a community meeting and made recommendations for changes or new initiatives for youth. We were able to help more in some communities than others, but we also gained a much clearer understanding of the needs of many youth in lllinois. These county studies fed directly into our advocacy work — and our relationships with state agencies. We also published a booklet on "How to Open a Day Care Center in a High School" which drew attention to the issue of appropriate child care arrangements for young mothers. Public Aid was another issue of the year: we initiated successful legislation to establish a committee to report to the legislature on Public Aid policies towards pregnant and parenting teens.

We published "A Statewide Plan to Improve the Health of Adolescents in Illinois", a companion to the report on girls in Chicago mentioned above. We also held a summit on adolescents and national health reform, and used the document which followed for advocacy in Chicago, Illinois and Washington DC.

We published "Teenage Mothers Speak for Themselves: a Public Policy Report" based on our conversations with young mothers. We initiated the SNAP (Successful Networking for Adolescent Parents) program to develop a statewide case management system for pregnant and parenting wards of the state. We were also a recipient, with a dozen or so other agencies around the country, of a federal grant to work in three adjacent Chicago communities to mobilize community members to reduce teen pregnancies. This was known as the Communities RAP (Reducing Adolescent Pregnancy) project. The Caucus was the lead agency for three years before it turned the project over to community agencies. This was one of 13 programs across the country selected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to explore ways of mobilizing communities into effective coalitions to address this issue. The Caucus was its initial home, although after three years it moved to an agency in one of the three communities. The Caucus remains in contact, through the Executive Director, Nancy Tartt. Jenny Knauss was invited by the Ms Foundation to join other grantees and funders in traveling to Beijing to attend the Fourth World Conference on Women. She made many contacts and attended numerous sessions run by women from all over the world, as well as presenting a workshop attended by women from 12 countries. We later published a synopsis of their discussion. After Jenny returned she and Carolyn Gordon worked with other women's groups in Illinois who had been able to attend the Conference, or were interested, and held a conference and several other events to maintain local interest in the decisions made in Beijing and the steps the U.S. Government had agreed to take as a result of the Conference. Most women from Chicago who were able to attend were determined to work to expand international boundaries on women's issues, and remained active in this area. Both the MacArthur Foundation and the Chicago Foundation for Women helped maintain the momentum.

Jenny Knauss was invited to the White House to attend a press conference organized by the National Campaign to Reduce Adolescent Pregnancy. About 15 of us met with President Clinton in the Oval office before the press conference to discuss what needed to be done to reduce early births. We also received funding from the MacArthur Foundation to continue to work on the issues raised in Beijing and to do follow-up work in Chicago and elsewhere in Illinois, particularly helping youth to understand, and perhaps work on, some of the global perspectives. This led us to develop Playing with Justice, a three day workshop for youth which raised many of the Beijing issues, linking them to the situation of youth here and in other parts of the world. It was funded by the MacArthur Foundation. The Caucus also launched the Youth Need to Know Network, an Illinois Coalition based on opposition to the 1996 "Abstinence Only Until Marriage" Legislation passed as part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). We opposed both the "Abstinence Only" section and also the main part of the bill which "ended welfare as we know it", requiring participants to work a minimum number of hours at an approved job or job related activity to receive benefits. The Youth Need to Know Network was formed as a way to draw attention to the dangers of the opposition to comprehensive health education. We developed a coalition, sent out materials and kept our members and other interested people up to date on the implementation of the bill and its consequences.

We co-chaired a conference in Chicago following up on the Beijing conference, with the Cook County Commission on Women's Issues Women's Health. This was part of a national conference run by Hilary Clinton, and other well known women who had attended, to discuss the US follow-up to the Beijing Conference. We also put out a booklet called Illinois Platform for Action for Women and Girls, developed by the Caucus and other groups who had sent people to Beijing or who were interested in follow-up. It included women from the suburbs and from Champaign and one or two other downstate counties. We began to work as part of the Community Justice Initiative (CJI) collaborating with a number of community organizations, including the Southwest Youth Collaborative and about 10 other youth organizations which shared our understanding of the importance of sharing decision-making and program development with young people, and supporting their struggles to bring about real change in attitudes toward youth, as well as other positive steps towards a more just society. The MacArthur Foundation provided funding From the county studies and other focus groups with providers, youth and parents, we learned that neither youth nor adults were informed about the rights of adolescents to access certain kinds of health care and about the confidentiality of that care. We created the "Take Care of Yourself' brochure, designed specifically for youth, and which has become a popular resource among health and youth service providers as well. To date we have distributed over 20,000 copies.

We put out a second version of the Illinois Platform for Action for Women and Girls, noting progress. Annetta Wilson became a Board member of the Black Administrators in Child Welfare, Inc. With the passing of the State Children's Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) in 1997, the Caucus participated 'in a taskforce to design what was to become the KidCare program in Illinois. We successfully advocated for health coverage for adolescents up to age 19, and several policies that increased access for youth to apply on their own. Recognizing that KidCare would expand access to health care for adolescents, we launched the Healthy Choices Campaign (HCC) with funding from the Chicago Community Trust. The work with CJI continued to flourish. We held our first Advocacy Day, in collaboration with the Illinois Maternal and Child Health Coalition, and took youth to Springfield to talk to leg islators about KidCare. We convened the Coalition for Education on Sexual Orientation (CESO), a statewide partnership between approximately 25 public and private agencies working on anti-gay violence in schools. Advocacy efforts with CPS and other school districts have resulted CESO workshops on sexual orientation issues and anti-gay violence to key personnel as well as faculty training at local schools.

Annetta Wilson worked with US Representative Danny Davis to hold a forum in two communities on the West side of Chicago, Austin and North Lawndale, to discuss what could be done about the number of children in those communities who had been removed into the child welfare system. Davis appointed Wilson to head his Child Welfare committee. The result was a project called Sankofa, Safe Child Initiative, headed by Wilson, a community member, and funded initially through the Congressman and DCFS Director Jess McDonald. Over the past 3 years the project flourished. It now has 4 staff, one of whom works on assisting grandparents to raise grandchildren, with funding from Generations United in Washington DC and the Louis Lurie Foundation. We also published "Teen Parents and Welfare Reform in Illinois: a Public Policy Report", based on interviews and focus groups with teen parents and service providers. Using the report we have worked with the state Dept. of Human Services (IDHS) to make policy changes to increase access to TANF by teen parents. Under the Freedom of Information Act we also called for information related to the state's expenditure of TANF funds, which included the use of Abstinence only Until Marriage monies. We also visited about 15 of the funded agencies to review their programs. We took groups of youth to Springfield this year, as in a number of previous years. They went to ask their legislators for more school-based clinics and were happy to find that funding was increased for that item.


After the Workforce Investment Act (WIA) became federal law, we received funding from the Joyce Foundation to advocate for effective programs and policies for youth in WIA implementation Illinois and Chicago. We convened the WIA Working Group for Youth to address youth specific concerns. Youth from CJI, including several from the Caucus, planned a Youth First Campaign, meeting with high level city directors to ask for a larger allotment of funds for youth programs in the city budget for services and activities for young people. Monica Avery, who had first started to participate in work at the Caucus when she was 12, led the Caucus contingent, asking for more funding for health programs for young people. Youth from other CJI agencies raised other their own issues. Over 100 youth were present. The Mayor did not attend in person, but a number of heads of city Departments were present and a positive discussion took place. Unfortunately, a short time later, foundation funding used for youth work was lost by a number of these organizations, including the Caucus, and the projects were postponed. Another event for the Caucus in 2000 was the routing of the Moonies. We heard rumors in late spring of that year that a group of followers of Rev. Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church were teaching health/sexuality education classes in some Chicago Public Schools. Always alert to the issue of comprehensive health education and aware of the concerns which had been raised for a number of years about the Reverend's male hierarchical views of family life, we set out to find out what was happening and let parents and others know. Chicago Public Schools staff were not initially interested in the issues we raised, and at the highest level responded to our questions with anger. However, we continued to gather information and found that the rumors were generally accurate. We held a press conference, guided by Valerie Denny and her staff, and got our story out to over 20 outlets. The story was covered, in Chicago, Washington and a number of other cities. Chicago Public Schools informed us somewhat later that it was reviewing its health education curriculum and making changes, which has in fact happened. The entire episode made it possible for us to advocate even more strongly for comprehensive health education 'in Chicago and elsewhere in the state.

In the spring of 2001, we helped write and generate support for House Bill 875 which would amend the Illinois School Code to require that "Factual information presented in course material and instruction shall be medically accurate. " HB 875 was supported by several local health departments, Planned Parenthood, the Illinois State Medical Society, the Illinois Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and other medical associations 'in Illinois. It was introduced in the House by Rep. Judy Irwin and passed with a two-thirds majority but was not allowed to be heard in the Senate Education Committee. We worked with Senator Carol Ronan and Representative Judy Irwin, original sponsors of the bill, to build support for it and reintroduce it in 2002. Though support for it continues to grow, Senate Republicans once again kept it from being read in the Senate Education committee. This effort has helped us to raise the level of discussion about comprehensive sex education among health providers, school administrators and policy makers. We are currently partnering with Planned Parenthood and other comprehensive sex education advocates to explore strategies for reintroducing HB875 or a similar bill. Our Healthy Choices Campaign, was very active. We developed a media campaign- "Get help- not a lecture" - targeted to youth and including transit ads, stickers, and posters directing young people to "Get Help-not a lecture" by logging on to a website ( with information on adolescent health issues, where to get care and how to pay for it. Research for the campaign 'included a media survey of 76 youth, and focus groups to test messages and ads with 32 youth. The campaign also includes Teen Issues, a weekly call-in show on Chicago Access Network TV Channel 21. It airs most Tuesdays at 5.00pm and is hosted by two High school student interns. Show topics include Teen Health issues, Where to get Help and How to Pay for it, Boys' Health, Girls' Health, Piercing and Tattoos, STD's and HIV, Teen Pregnancy, GLBTQ Youth, Smoking, Drugs and Alcohol, Health Care for Athletes, Stress, Depression, and Suicide. We had tremendous success with the IDHS in improving policies and programs for low income teen parents on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and in contributing to national advocacy on TANF reauthorization. After months of ongoing advocacy, IDHS staff have made several policy changes 'including the elimination of a work requirement for teen parents completing high school or a GED. With significant input from the Caucus, they revised and published a new Teen Parent Services booklet explaining the TANF and TPS programs. IDHS contracted with the Caucus for training and technical assistance to implement our recommendations, including training of IDHS caseworkers and local office administrators and Teen Parent Services case managers. DHS also contracted Bunny Shupe to conduct pregnancy prevention training across the state for IDHS grantees. With a grant from United Way we hired and trained a small group of teen parents to inform other teens on the west side of Chicago about their rights to access TANF and the Teen Parent Services programs.

We launched the Allteenhealth. com website. Over 115 youth participated through the planning of this media education tool. We partnered with Street Level Youth Media (SLYM) to create this site that informs teens about adolescent health information for parents and providers. Two HCC youth participated with four youth from SLYM in development of the site, and acquired technology skills. They now edit and maintain the site. Funding for the HCC project comes primarily from the Chicago Community Trust and Polk Bros. Foundation. As co-chair of the Illinois Consortium on Adolescent Pregnancy (ICAPP) Bunny Shupe headed the recently completed statewide survey on comprehensive health education in Illinois Schools. Its results will be ready in a few weeks. It was developed with funds from the Illinois state Family Planning staff. We are looking forward to releasing it. As chair of the 7th Congressional District Child Welfare Committee for Congressman Danny K. Davis, Annetta Wilson attended the Congressional Black Caucus Child Welfare Sub-committee Hearing in Corpus Christi, Texas in January, representing the Caucus. Pamela Hunt from the Caucus/Sankofa was also present as a Community Outreach Specialist. Annetta also moderated the same committee in Chicago in July, dealing with the Civil Rights issues on children in the child welfare system. In August she was co-moderator of the Congressional Black Caucus Third Child Welfare Hearing in Greenwood, Mississippi. In September she moderated a child welfare workshop in Chicago titled "There are No Disposable Children". On October 1, she moderated a Teen Parent Summit, to discuss the issue of recent infant deaths with a number of health workers. The information was passed on to Congressman Davis.

You may contact the Caucus at:

Main Office
28 E. Jackson Blvd Ste 710
Chicago, IL 60604
Telephone 312-427-4460