Engaging Youth for Today and Tomorrow
When it comes to the adolescent (and also young adult) population, the voice of youth may not always be involved, integrated, or prioritized in various policy and program development that impacts this population the greatest. It is widely acknowledged that positive health outcomes and public health goals can be better achieved if young people are fully engaged as partners and leaders in addressing underlying determinants, rather than just being seen as the intended audience of an intervention or particular program. There is a desire among MCH professionals and partners to learn more about effectively involving youth, including youth with special health care needs (YSHCN), in a way that fosters their leadership, including opportunities to help plan, monitor, and evaluate programs and policies.
Youth engagement in MCH and greater public health programming lies along a continuum, all of which has much value. Your state program may be interacting with or involving youth on a more periodic basis to get their feedback on a particular topic, such as through a focus group. Or perhaps you are on your way to having young people become influential in some decision making. Regardless of where along the continuum your program currently is, or would like to be, youth engagement generates a variety of benefits, for young people, adult colleagues, and their greater communities:
- Adolescents can become equipped with skillsets that are key to their transition to adulthood, such as problem-solving, decision-making, oral and written communication, identity formation, civic engagement, and advocacy.
- Adults can build healthier relationships with young people, to help understand their perspectives as well as their developmental needs.
- Communities benefit from the investment of young people who are committed to making a difference and improving the health and well-being of others.
Meaningful inclusion and support of youth in public health, including MCH, is a relationship that generates impact on programming and policy development, but also helps build leadership skills of young people themselves. Effective youth engagement offers strategies and approaches that are strengths-based, which include the policies, practice methods, and tactics that identify and draw upon the strengths of youth and their greater networks. A model often used to support and guide youth is the Developmental Assets framework, from the Search Institute, which outlines both the internal and external strengths of young people that are essential to their success. External assets are defined as the supports, opportunities, and relationships young people need across all aspects of their lives. Internal assets are those personal skills, commitments, and values they need to make good choices, take responsibility for their own lives, and be independent. To learn more about the 40 identified Developmental Assets, please visit https://www.search-institute.org/our-research/development-assets/.
Rooted in Positive Youth Development
Involving youth in the very social institutions that influence their potential and well-being, while fostering leadership and promoting positive outcomes, is a strengths-based approach known as Positive Youth Development (PYD). This model is very intentional, pro-social, and values youth as more than individuals who may engage in risky behavior; PYD offers strategies that help enhance the positive qualities that young people already own. PYD is no stranger to the MCH discipline. Several state Title V programs identify PYD as both a goal for their adolescent populations, subject matter for training and technical assistance, as well as the approach for achieving better outcomes. This framework also helps to optimize youth engagement in various MCH programs, initiatives, and policy development opportunities.
Building the Capacity of Title V to Better Engage Young People
Effective youth engagement examines ways to empower young people in opportunities to help create solutions to the issues they and their peers face. Youth need to be valued as experts and seen as resources rather than a collection of "risks" or the end-users of programs. Engaging youth consistently, and in a meaningful manner, requires thoughtful planning and is not a task that can happen overnight or with minimal effort. Several state MCH/Title V programs have forged a path to demonstrate how youth engagement can be built into current and future programming priorities. These experiences offer examples that other MCH leaders can adopt and integrate into their various initiatives and action plans to help achieve programmatic goals, as well as offer experiential learning opportunities for youth themselves.
In 2015, the Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs launched a virtual Community of Practice focused on improving the capacity of MCH professionals and advocates to increase youth engagement in Title V programming. Through the learning sessions and interactions of CoP members, a collection of examples, approaches, and ideas was compiled and organized into an online learning module for other MCH professionals and partners to use. This toolkit houses extensive promising and best practices for youth engagement, organized by topic area and resource type.
Please respond to this one-question survey BEFORE you complete the module:
Best Practices for Youth Engagement: A Resource for Title V/ Maternal and Child Health Programs
You can also search for specific resources featured in the online module here.
If you would like more information or require any assistance, please contact Iliana White using the contact information below.
Iliana White, MPH, CHES, CPH
Senior MCH Specialist, Adolescent Health and Youth Engagement