Skip to content

Youth Development Toolkit

Lead the Way: Engaging Youth in Health Care

This resource is designed for people who work in school-based or community health centers who want to engage youth in their mission and work. In these sections, you will find practical strategies, resources, and reflections from the field to help you develop youth to be productive actors in their health care and their future. 

Rationale for Youth Development

Youth are the most important actors in their health care. Great health centers recognize the value of youth participation in decision-making processes and engage youth in various aspects of clinical operations.

Cultivating Parent Support

It is essential that parents or caregivers understand the importance of opportunities that empower their adolescent children. Parents often serve as the primary source of information for their children on a variety of topics, including health.

Developing Youth Leadership Skills

Youth leadership supports youth in “developing the ability to analyze their own strengths and weaknesses, set personal and professional goals, and have the self-esteem, confidence, motivation, and abilities to carry them out.”

Recruiting and Retaining Young Leaders

Recruitment and retention are a vital components of a health center’s youth work. Strategies to recruit youth and keep them engaged should be created early when developing a youth engagement program and carried into implementation.

Youth Leadership Networks

Youth leadership networks give health centers and young people the opportunity to collaborate with other individuals and groups that are doing related work and can provide different perspectives. Youth networks facilitate the organization of youth in local, state, and national policy arenas.

Youth Participation Models

In youth participation models, youth and adults form partnerships that enable youth to contribute their ideas, skills, and energy to the shared decision-making process. For adults, the key is to determine the type of coordination and interactions that foster youth to make changes, direct activity, and take responsibility for outcomes.

Cultivating Community Support

Community support can enhance youth engagement work. Members of the community bring a variety of skills, relationships, and experiences to the table that help cultivate youth engagement in health centers. 

Promoting Youth Development Efforts

Communicating and promoting youth development successes can bring support from the broader community, current and future youth leaders, partner organizations, and foundations. More importantly, celebrated successes help validate youth work and encourage others to recognize the value of youth development.


We would like to thank the following individuals who helped develop the original scope of work, gathered information and resources, and reviewed the first edition in draft form: 

  • Kathleen Gutierrez and Samantha Blackburn, California School-Based Health Alliance 
  • Susan Hildebrand and Divya Mohan-Little, Illinois Coalition for School Health Centers 
  • Jan Strozer, School-Based Health Alliance 

For this second edition, special thanks go to Julia Hakes of the Oregon School-Based Health Alliance and Jennifer Augustine of Advocates for Youth whose ideas and insight were critical in transforming the toolkit into this final product. 

We are especially grateful for the contributions of Kierra Hurt, who facilitated the literature review, conducted interviews for the health center highlights, and assisted in content development. 

Special thanks to the following for their willingness to share their stories and materials: 


  • Yolanda Cordova, Director, New Mexico Department of Health 
  • Adriana Ortiz, Health Program Coordinator, Corazón Community Services 
  • Eleni Vrettos, Health Ambassador, Corazón Community Services 
  • Massah Massaquoi, Senior Research Assistant, The Fenway Institute 
  • Susanna Schneider Banks, Community Health Organizer, Montefiore School Health Program, Dewitt Clinton High School Campus



  • Suzanne Flory, Member Services Program Manager, Oregon School-Based Health Alliance 
  • Kathleen Woods, Family Nurse Practitioner, Roosevelt High School 
  • Moore S, Hurt K, Shore A. Lead the Way: Engaging Youth in Health Care. School-Based Health Alliance website. Published October 16, 2015. Accessed M/D/Y. 

    This project is supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under cooperative agreement number U30CS09738-08-00, award title “Technical Assistance to Community and Migrant Health Centers and Homeless” for $450,000. This information or content and conclusions are those of the author and should not be construed as the official position or policy of, nor should any endorsements be inferred by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government.