Success Story: Alaska

Adolescent Reproductive and Sexual Health Data and Assessment Mini-Grant 

By Sophie Wenzel, MPH
Adolescent Health Program Manager
Section of Women's, Children's and Family Health
Alaska Division of Public Health

Alaska’s Adolescent Health Program is using an AMCHP Data and Assessment (DATA) Mini-Grant to conduct a teen sexual and reproductive health needs assessment. With the ultimate goal of reducing teen pregnancies, our DATA project is designed to help us find out Alaska teens’ sexual reproductive health needs so that our programs can better serve them. The Adolescent Health Program will use the data compiled during the needs assessment in order to drive future programs and influence policies. 

The Adolescent Health Program Manager met with youth from several rural areas and Anchorage to help design the survey instrument. They met in focus groups to discuss the issues teens face, and the youth helped develop the survey questions based on their knowledge of teens in their community. Two surveys were designed –one for adults (service providers and parents) and one for youth (ages 14 to 20). An opinion survey was developed, rather than asking people directly about themselves, in hopes that the format would help people feel more comfortable answering sensitive questions honestly and openly. 

The survey was sent to providers throughout the state and they were asked to complete it and share it with teens that they work with. The survey was administered at various events and conferences that targeted teens and their providers. The youth that helped create the survey also completed the survey and promoted it to their friends and families.  

Results of the survey are expected by early June. Data collected will be compiled and analyzed. The Alaska Youth Health Advisory Committee, a committee comprised of teens from the entire state, will hold its first meeting this fall to review the data and decide on which direction the program should take. 

There were some challenges involved in this process. Working in Alaska presents geographic challenges since Alaska is almost three times the size of Texas with a very diverse population of approximately 680,000. Designing a survey that would speak to teens throughout Alaska proved to be difficult. Also, when thinking about teen pregnancy prevention, programs should look at a broader view than just access to contraceptives. A history of sexual assault and violence in girls lives, for example, means that they are more likely to get pregnant as a teen; however, it is difficult to ask those questions in an opinion survey.

One of the major successes of this project is that the Alaska’s Adolescent Health Team worked directly with diverse youth to create the survey. The young people provided input that was incorporated into the survey, which gave them ownership of the process and allowed them to have a strong role in disseminating it and serving as data collectors. Also, other teens are generally more responsive when the survey has been created by their peers. 

Overall, Alaska will be able to collect much needed data to inform their adolescent health work, and involving teens has provided them with a great opportunity to engage in reproductive and sexual health issues that they face as well as learn about the process of designing a survey and collecting data. The Adolescent Health Program wishes to thank AMCHP for their generous mini-grant.