Lead the Way: Youth-Adult Partnerships for Health Advocacy in New York

This story comes from the Alliance’s youth engagement toolkit Lead the Way: Engaging Youth in Health Care. Each month, a new reflection from the field will touch on a different component of youth engagement and show how youth are leading the way in health awareness and promotion.

School-based health with youth-adult partnershipsMontefiore School Health Program (MSHP) in the Bronx, NY, is showcasing how youth-adult partnerships can enable adolescents to take a more active role in their own health care. Youth-adult partnerships, along with youth-led and adult-led systems, are general models for youth participation that encourages young people to contribute their ideas, skills, and energy in a shared decision-making process.1 These models work as a continuum and are often combined to best fit the needs and objectives of a particular youth program.

As adults, the key for youth engagement is to determine the type of coordination and interactions that will allow youth to make changes, direct activity, and take responsibility for outcomes.2 Youth-adult partnerships seek to establish young people and adults as equal partners in building and leading campaigns, and developing the organization.3 This collaborative partnership between adult allies in health centers and youth constituents encourages self-efficacy, empowerment, and skills that young people can carry into adulthood. (To learn more about the individual advantages of each model, view the “Youth Participation Models” section of our toolkit!)

Over the past two years, MSHP, in partnership with Youth Empowered Solutions (YES!), has developed a youth empowerment program that engages young people as both consumers and advocates of their health care. The 2014-15 school year marked the launch of youth councils in three Bronx public high schools. On each campus, Montefiore Youth Council members complete community health assessments at their schools and use their findings to plan health advocacy projects around the needs of their peers. Each council mobilizes advocacy efforts throughout the year and convenes annually to send 100 students to the statewide School-Based Health Center Advocacy Day in Albany, NY.

This program has generated innovative projects that highlight the contributions youth are able to bring to the table in youth-adult partnerships. Some projects have included: increasing school-based health center enrollment, planning a school-wide “Consent is Sexy” month to help prevent sexual assault, and hosting a monthly “Garden Café” event in the cafeteria that uses nutritious local vegetables.

Susanna Schneider Banks, Community Health Organizer at The Dewitt Clinton Campus, shared her experience working with the Montefiore Youth Council. She described involvement with the council as an opportunity that “allows our students to develop important skills like public speaking and project planning, as well as developing critical awareness regarding health disparities in their communities. Further, this allows students to go from patient to activist and take an active role in their own health and the health of their communities.”

To advance your knowledge and skills around engaging youth in your health center and community, we encourage you to explore our toolkit Lead the Way: Engaging Youth in Health Care and share your comments and stories below!

Youth Engagement Toolkit

(1) 4-H. Youth Partnership & Participation: Positive Youth Development and Mentoring Organization
(2) Academy for Educational Development. Advancing Youth Development: A Curriculum for Training Youth Workers. DC Trust. 2015
(3) Norman, J. Building Effective Youth-Adult Partnerships. Transitions: The Rights Respect Responsibility. Available at: http://www.advocatesforyouth.org/storage/advfy/documents/transitions1401.pdf.


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