At a critical time for youth, this team is making physical and mental health care more accessible to historically underserved communities

TikTok screenshot

When the state Department of Health's Adolescent and Young Adult Health unit reached out to communities across our state to address health issues for youth, they opened a floodgate. Interest was strong, enthusiastic, and tapped pent-up frustration adolescents had been feeling. 

Within just a year, the Adolescent and Young Adult Health team led by Rabeeha Ghaffar in the Division of Prevention and Community Health, has launched:

    In addition, the team continues to administer the Washington Personal Responsibility Education Program (WA PREP), a sexual health education program.

    “From the outset we wanted to make a difference for historically underserved communities, and the work we started in 2022 is firmly taking us in that direction,” said Ghaffar, Adolescent Health Program Manager. “The key to making this happen has been the support we have received from partners across the state.”

    WYSHIIN has 11 implementation sites and three tribal sites overseen by the Northwest Portland Area Indian Health Board (NPAIHB).

    The unit has begun working with six grantees to assist with planning school-based health centers. Two grantees, each receiving up to $250,000, to start and open an SBHC. Four grantees will receive up to $150,000 each to maintain, improve, or expand existing SBHC operations.

    When the Youth Advisory Council was launched, the team received 300 applications. Once established, the 40 council members were eager to share their thoughts on reproductive health, physical health, mental health, and healthy relationships. In 2022 they helped create TikTok videos on health literacy.

    “They are a community engagement group that gives us ideas, thoughts, and opinions on important adolescent health topics that we then share with our peers and partners and to do our block grant planning,” said Alexis Bates, the team’s Adolescent Health Consultant.  

    “The youth are really engaged, they have a lot to say. Our conversations are focused on different aspects of adolescent health care. They have a lot of ideas about what will work better for them. They are really frustrated too. They tell us what is not working. They are interested in having an impact on health care and how it impacts their friends.”

    The school-based health center grant (SBHC) program has made an emphasis on being community-centric to ensure that local needs are met. For example, partners from the Healthy Ferry County Coalition described barriers they’re seeing when delivering SBHC in rural communities. 

    The team produced a storymap to share a visual outline of the program and highlight the participating communities.

    “As SBHCs are supported and established, they can help increase well visits and immunization rates in the short term. As we can get care to students, it will allow students to stay in school because they aren’t sick,” said School-Based Health Center Program Coordinator Mary Simock.

    “We’re not trying to do the top down approach but to be a resource to what they need and connect them to resources.”

    As this work grows, DOH will learn what is successful and provide data on issues being addressed by communities across the state, rural, urban and tribal. It will bring examples to other communities for what works.

    Engagement with partners will continue to be core to the ongoing work. Until June 2023 they are implementing the current grant period and will work with grantees to do community engagement, needs assessments, and business plans,

    “We will be here supporting them doing the community of practice and planning for what a future grant year will look like,” Ghaffar said.

    Screenshot of TikTok video showing student Daniel

    See TikTok videos prepared by youth involved in DOH's adolescent health work.