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 From the CEO

Adolescent & Young Adult Health

By Michael R. Fraser, PhD CAE Mike Fraser and

Jennifer O’Brien, Minnesota’s State Adolescent Health Coordinator and President-Elect of the National Network of State Adolescent Health Coordinators

This month’s From the CEO features an interview with Jennifer O’Brien, Minnesota’s State Adolescent Health Coordinator and President-Elect of the National Network of State Adolescent Health Coordinators. I caught up with Jennifer to ask her a few questions about the Network, the future of adolescent health, and how she connects with other MCH leaders statewide. 

Mike: Jennifer, thanks for talking with me today – let’s get right into it. What do you think are the biggest issues facing state adolescent health programs today? 

Jennifer: Thanks for this opportunity Mike! It is such an interesting time to be working in adolescent health. For the first time in my tenure as the state adolescent health coordinator, states are leveraging funding opportunities for important adolescent health issues, namely teen pregnancy prevention (Personal Responsibility and Education Program, also known as PREP, and the Tier 1 and Tier 2 Teen Pregnancy Prevention programs), and support for pregnant and parenting teens and young adults (Pregnancy Assistance Fund). Many state adolescent health programs have been in the midst of some heavy grant writing and program planning over the last nine months or so. This is really exciting! AJennifer O'Brient the same time, many of us are facing challenging state budgets which often impact the most vulnerable in our state, challenging federal budgets, persistent and troubling health disparities, and competing adolescent health priorities.  

Mike: Yes, it is definitely exciting times, but tempered by the budget realities. Given all of these, how do you think AMCHP and the Network continue to work together to address the health needs of adolescents and young adults? 

Jennifer: AMCHP’s Adolescent Health Program staff, in particular Sharron Corle and Lissa Pressfield, have been invaluable resources to the National Network of State Adolescent Health Coordinators (NNSAHC). AMCHP staff have provided expertise and support to the newly launched NNSAHC Ning site, which is an interactive website for state adolescent health coordinators to share resources and information on how to best do our jobs. Both Sharron and Lissa have also provided enriching and invaluable learning opportunities for state adolescent health coordinators over the years through mini-grants and learning collaboratives. There has always been a nice give and take; AMCHP sends out an e-mail to the Network if they need the state adolescent health perspective, and we often look to AMCHP for advice on the federal perspective.  

Mike: Thanks for that – we do have great staff here! I like that “give and take” notion. Speaking of give and take, what is the most important thing you think Title V directors and other MCH leaders need to know about adolescent health programs? 

Jennifer: I often remind my colleagues about the importance of early childhood investments, and continuing our investment through adolescence and young adulthood. James Heckman, the 2006 Nobel Prize winner in economics said, “Invest early in children… and don’t stop. Cumulative investments yield compound results.” As those of us in the field of MCH pay closer attention to social determinants of health and the life span approach, it is imperative that we strive to meet the unique needs of adolescents and young adults.  

Mike: Yes, that is a great quotation – something with which I agree 100 percent! Thinking about what’s coming next, Jennifer, what do you see is the future of Adolescent Health – where will programs be in the next five years? 

Jennifer: I hope to see Adolescent Health nicely integrated into a life span approach. I am excited to see the evaluation results from five years of intensive investment in adolescent pregnancy prevention. As always, I hope to see those of us in adolescent health striving to promote a positive image of young people that balances both risk and protective factors. It’s an exciting time to be working in adolescent health.  

Mike: Jennifer, thanks for your leadership and your partnership – this is really great.

Jennifer: Thanks so much for this opportunity to share this with you.