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 Building Bridges for Adolescent Sexual Health Through State-Local Collaboration

Maritza Valenzuela, MPH, CHES
Adolescent Health Program Manager, AMCHP

Gretchen Weiss
Senior Program Analyst, NACCHO

Effective partnerships and meaningful collaboration among health and education agencies are recognized as essential to improving health outcomes for children and adolescents. There is a great need for successful models of collaboration to bridge the divide between state and local health and education agencies. Recognizing this need, AMCHP and the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) were supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Division of Adolescent and School Health (CDC-DASH) to develop the "Building Bridges for Adolescent Sexual Health Through State-Local Collaboration" project. Building on past experiences and current relationships in Texas, AMCHP and NACCHO recognized an opportunity to build on existing relationships, reduce overlap in programmatic efforts, foster connection and collaboration between state and local agencies, and align work to maximize impact.

The goal of the Building Bridges project (BBP) is to build and enhance collaboration among state and local health and education agencies and their partners to improve health and educational outcomes for adolescents. The project role of AMCHP and NACCHO is to provide capacity building assistance and implement and evaluate action plans for improving outcomes among adolescents.

DASH + AMCHP + NACCHO + Texas + Houston = Opportunity

Initially, each organization reached out to the DASH-funded staff in their respective primary intervention sites (Texas and Houston). Based on positive feedback, AMCHP and NACCHO planned an introductory conference call with the "core partners." The Building Bridges project core partners are the Texas Education Agency Statewide Coordinator for Health and Safety, the Houston Independent School District Manager of Secondary Health and Physical Education, and the Texas Department of State Health Services (DHSH) State Adolescent Health Coordinator. Outcomes

Although the project is still evolving, AMCHP and NACCHO have accomplished the following:

  • Brought together key health and education agency partners to focus specifically on improving health and educational outcomes for adolescents
  • Established commitment to the Building Bridges project from each of the core partner agencies
  • Identified priorities shared among agencies, as well as individual agency strengths and assets, and used this information to develop a collective vision to drive the project
  • Built consensus around a set of activities that aligned with the priorities of the core partners and could have a meaningful impact on adolescent sexual health
  • Brought new partners from HIV/STD and School Health divisions of the Houston Department of Health and Texas DSHS together
  • Extended partner group collectively identified a practical vision for how their efforts could improve adolescent sexual health in Texas, identified potential resources/partners, and came to consensus on key action items
  • Core partners committed to implementing the action plan through July 2013; extended partners committed to support those efforts by sharing resources and expertise

Barriers Encountered

Similar to any project, the Building Bridges Project encountered some barriers over the past year, including:

  • Staff turnover and transition at the core partner agencies
  • Difficulty identifying and engaging additional partners and stakeholders
  • Difficulty narrowing down list of potential collaborative activities developed by core partners

Lessons Learned

AMCHP and NACCHO recognize the following lessons learned over the past year of project planning and implementation:

  • The Building Bridges process greatly benefited from the existing partnership between AMCHP and NACCHO.
  • Bringing the core partners together for an in-person meeting at the beginning of the project was important for building and enhancing relationships.
  • The fact that AMCHP and NACCHO project staff were all trained in the same facilitation methods was integral to the success of the May 2012 meeting. Use of the facilitation methods provided structure for the meeting planning process and guided the facilitated activities.
  • CDC-DASH support and participation in the Building Bridges project was crucial to its success. DASH project officers attended both in-person meetings in May 2012 and January 2013. This was a clear indication to meeting participants that the state-local collaboration model was supported and encouraged from the top down.

School Health Advisory Councils (SHACs)

A SHAC is a group of individuals from the community who are appointed by the school district to provide advice to the district on coordinated school health programming and its impact on students and learning. In Texas, every independent school system is required by law to have a School District Health Advisory Council, of which a majority of the members must be parents who are not employed by the school district. School districts must consider the recommendations of the local SHAC before changing the district’s health education curriculum or instruction, which includes any course materials and instruction relating to human sexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, and/or HIV/AIDS.

Project Timeline

March 2012: Introductory conference call with core partners

May 2012: Core partners meeting in Austin, TX

June 2012 – January 2013: Monthly conference calls with core partners

September 2012: Core partners met to discuss the list of activities developed during the May 2012 meeting and developed a meeting proposal to focus on the SHAC activity

December 2012: AMCHP & NACCHO presented a poster on the Building Bridges Project at the 2012 MCH Epi/CityMatCH Conference

July 2012– January 2013: Staff transitions at NACCHO, TEA, DSHS, DASH

August 2012 - January 2013: New partners welcomed to the project

January 2013: Project Partners Meeting in Austin, TX

February 2013: AMCHP & NACCHO presented a poster on the Building Bridges Project at the 2013 AMCHP conference

March-July 2013: Developed action plan initialized in January 2013 meeting

April 2013: AMCHP and NACCHO staff collaborated with CDC-DASH Project Officers to draft and submit workshop proposals on the BBP to two national conferences: the American School Health Association annual conference and the Healthy Teen Network conference.