By Iliana White
Senior Program Manager, Adolescent Health
Although maternal and child health (MCH) has a place for adolescents as a population domain, youth voices or perspectives are usually missing when it comes to programming design, implementation, or evaluation. We have heard this anecdotally through experiences in some states, and we know that as an organization, AMCHP was not quite setting an exemplary standard either.
In 2017, we challenged ourselves to change the script – and we hope those changes inspire other MCH organizations to do the same.
AMCHP's Child and Adolescent Health (CAH) team targeted one of AMCHP's key showcases: Our annual conference, where we bring together over 800 health professionals and stakeholders who work in the MCH field or serve as strategic partners. Wonder how many of those 800-plus are typically youth or young adults? Hint: not many. In fact, one theme that has been fairly consistent in the annual conference evaluation is the lack of youth attendees.
The CAH team worked closely with our partners and members, including several state adolescent health coordinators, to offer opportunities for young people to attend and be part of this gathering. As a result, more than 70 youth and young adult attended AMCHP 2017. We were intentional about ensuring that younger attendees were able to learn, but also to share their stories and thoughts MCH program leaders in their states and communities. With assistance from the state adolescent program in Missouri, led by coordinator Andra Jungmeyer, AMCHP and partners kicked off the conference with a concurrent two-day program catered to youth and young adults. Here, the youth participated in several team building activities, an orientation and discussion on MCH advocacy, facilitated by Brent Ewing, AMCHP's director of public policy and government affairs. The programming was rounded out by an interactive learning session facilitated by the youth advisory council members from Puerto Rico, and a focus group on the subject of the adolescent well-visit.
The adolescents and young adults also participated in the general conference offerings, such as the plenaries, poster sessions, workshops, and regional luncheons. For many of them, this was the first major professional conference they ever attended or the largest.
While this may have been a watershed moment in their professional and personal development, there was a significant impact felt among older, more seasoned MCH professionals to witness a large youth presence. Both anecdotally and through the conference evaluations, attendees indicated several takeaways from the youth participants, including how to engage more youth in MCH action plans, how to create a robust youth advisory council at the state level, and how pillars of adolescent development should help shape interventions targeted for this age group.
This year, in general, we've seen energy around engaging more youth in MCH and the value it can bring. For example, youth and young adult leaders in the AYAH CoIIN have spearheaded key quality improvement activities, such as designing marketing campaigns around preventive well-visits in their states or assessing the physical environments of select clinics in which their peers seek medical care.
Following the meeting, AMCHP staff and members of its Youth Engagement Community of Practice already began to plan for the next phase of activities. Since many members expressed the desire to learn about youth advisory councils, we hosted a webinar in July to discuss ways in which this framework operates, as well as opportunities for these councils to advance MCH priorities and action plans. The webinar session was hosted by AMCHP, but the true stars of the show were the experts themselves: leaders from the Puerto Rico youth advisory council and the Rhode Island youth advisory council, the latter of which focuses a lot on the professional development of youth with special health care needs.
In addition, there has been a lot of headway in building upon the success of the 2017 meeting as we prepare for the 2018 Annual Conference. We have an expanded the Family and Youth Engagement conference track (which includes fatherhood involvement and family-centered care). In addition, special consideration was given to proposals that included family or youth as presenters and/or panelists, especially for the Family and Youth Engagement and the Adolescent Health tracks. As a result, we have several workshops in which a youth or young adult will share their expertise in MCH directly with members, and no longer just be featured conceptually as the target audience. Another exciting component is the integration of the youth voice in a few of the general plenary sessions, including the importance of young male involvement in MCH, as well as how youth advisory councils can be part of a greater response to emergency crises affecting women, children, and families.
We set a high bar in 2017 when it comes to engaging youth more authentically in our association work but also in emphasizing its importance across all of the MCH programs that we at AMCHP represent. We look forward to exceeding our own expectations even further in 2018.