By Annika Shore, MPH | December 16, 2014
My work as a professional development consultant at ETR focuses on developing the knowledge and skills of people in the field of adolescent sexual and reproductive health. Our goal? To collectively enhance the health and well-being of young people.
When I think back on the most powerful moments of my career, they all share one thing in common: they were moments when young people and adults worked closely together for a shared goal. Some of those moments occurred when I was the young person, working with mentors in a health education program. Some were more recent, when, as an adult professional, I joined with youth to co-plan conferences or workshops.
I first discovered my interest for work in sexual health education and HIV prevention when I was in high school. I joined my local Planned Parenthood’s Teen Council when I was 17. I remember working closely with Tim, Carol and Jodi, the three adult facilitators of the Teen Council. We created lesson plans and wrote scripts for teen theatre productions.
The confidence and skills I gained by working with my mentors in Teen Council led me to pursue work in this field as an adult. I am still in touch with all of my mentors, and I am proud to say that today we call each other colleagues.
Some years later, I coordinated a youth-focused HIV prevention and sexual health education program for an AIDS services organization in Portland, Oregon. I supported a group of young educators in their efforts to prevent HIV infection among their peers. The innovation and energy they brought to their projects was, and is, so inspiring!
Moments such as these are the reason I am passionate today about working toward a healthier and more equitable world for young people—a passion I bring daily to my work at ETR–and they are also why I believe strongly in the power of Youth-Adult Partnerships (Y-APs).
There are many innovative models for ways we as a field can engage young people in programs and activities that help them thrive. Peer education programs, positive youth development programs and culturally specific youth empowerment programs are all fine examples of ways communities are mobilizing around their youth.
But the construct of Y-APs is especially relevant and exciting because it focuses on positive outcomes not just for youth, but for adults, organizations, and communities as well.
The growing evidence base about how Youth-Adult Partnerships work defines them as:
…the practice of: (a) multiple youth and multiple adults deliberating and acting together, (b) in a collective [democratic] fashion (c) over a sustained period of time, (d) through shared work, (e) intended to promote social justice, strengthen an organization and/or affirmatively address a community issue.
The concepts of shared work, collaborative action and decision making, and mutual vision place Y-APs on the cutting edge of models for youth engagement in this field. This definition inherently rejects some of the traditional ways our programs have functioned. In more conventional programs, adults design a program or activity they believe will benefit youth, and the youth receive the program and subsequent benefit. In Youth-Adult Partnerships, youth and adults decide together on the issues and the course of action. And, in turn, both benefit.
Dr. Zeldin points out, “Youth have choices. They can form different kinds of relationships with different adults.” When true natural mentors are found, they can help youth overcome adversity, serve as meaningful and relevant role models in which to find hope and inspiration, and help young people create networks that can provide opportunities for their future.
Research shows that adults who engage in reciprocal partnerships with youth have improved inspiration and motivation for their own work, a more positive view of young people in general, a greater capacity for innovation in their projects, and greater confidence that their projects will actually succeed.
Too many of our public institutions separate young people from the rest of their community. When we break down the barriers and create intergenerational community connections, both young people and institutions thrive.
Fostering true Y-APs in our work can be a challenge. There are a number of institutionalized challenges to forming these connections. For example, most youth are in school while most adults are at work; there is frequently an underlying mistrust between youth and adults; and many organizations do not currently have the resources to invest in this type of new partnership.
However, even small steps toward working in partnership with youth are valuable. Here are some tips on how to incorporate Youth-Adult Partnerships into your work:
For more information about Youth-Adult Partnerships, here are some stellar resources:
Annika Shore, MPH, serves as a professional development consultant with ETR. In that role, she provides support on all aspects of ETR’s professional learning services. You can reach her at Annika.firstname.lastname@example.org or find her at LinkedIn.