Raising Youth Voices with VOIHCE
When it comes to youth sexual health education, it’s good to pause and remember that this work should always be grounded in youth experiences and youth insights. That’s why the work of Kids First Health Care - a registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit dedicated to improving the health and well-being of infants, children, and youth - is so impressive. Maria Zubia and Jordan Goto from Kids First are here to tell us more!
By Jordan Goto and Maria Zubia of Kids First Health Care
March 23, 2017
Since 2008, Kids First has worked with a youth advisory board from Adams City High School (ACHS) called VOIHCE (Voicing our Imperative Health Concerns Everyday). VOIHCE is made up of and led by ACHS students who are focused on addressing health issues relevant to their peers. With support and facilitation from Kids First adult advisors, VOIHCE works to increase awareness about issues that affect adolescents, including peer pressure, domestic violence, suicide, depression, teen pregnancy prevention, and reproductive health. The goal of the group is to hear what young people have to say about health issues, empower teens to take responsibility for their own health, and to tailor school-based health services to be most responsive to teens and their needs.
On average, there are 15-20 ACHS students who participate in this voluntary group to share their voice at weekly meetings. To put it lightly, their input has been crucial to the school-based health center services offered at ACHS. For example, a few years ago the group voiced their concern about the mental wellness of their peers, and how some of the students were not getting the help they needed through the typical school services. Thanks to the VOIHCE members, the school-based health center integrated mental health services in 2010.
But working with the school-based health center is only one way VOIHCE has profoundly impacted ACHS. Every year, the group looks into a wide range of health, wellness, and safety issues that affect their peers. Once a topic is presented and the members learn more about it, they decide on a creative and compelling way to share the information with their peers. In the past, they have focused on seat belt safety, drugs, alcohol, bullying, teen dating violence, nutrition, physical activity, distracted driving, teen pregnancy prevention, and much more.
And once VOIHCE decides to focus on a topic, they get the work done. From 2009 to 2011, VOIHCE worked with the nutrition supervisor and assisted in the process that led to ACHS and other schools in Adams 14 to provide salad bars. In 2012, they created a bullying survey and held an awareness event that led to ACHS receiving its designation as a “No Place for Hate” site and the creation of a new club. Not to mention, VOIHCE members worked to update the Tobacco policy for the entire Adams 14 school district. Their accomplishments as a group are diverse, consistent, and powerful.
VOIHCE has also been instrumental in creating a safe, welcoming, and effective place to meet the reproductive health needs of students, both in and out of the clinic space. In the past, VOIHCE members provided information on reproductive health to their peers during Pregnancy Prevention month in May. During the 2010-2013 school years, they held a “No Baby-Baby Shower” to demonstrate the cost of having a baby as well as the responsibility of being a teen parent, and also provided information regarding STIs and birth control. Most recently, prompted by VOIHCE members and based on student feedback, a member of the school-based clinic will meet with students in health or science classes each semester to spread information about sexual health, as well as services the clinic can provide to meet students’ needs. Based on this new intervention, Kids First has been able to inform over 700 students directly, and as a result, 25-35% of its clinic visits comprise reproductive services for both males and females.
It hasn’t all been easy though. One of Kids First’s challenges is consistency in group participation, as many of the students are involved in multiple after-school activities. As a result, Kids First often “competes” for students’ time based on their involvement in other activities and clubs. Another challenge has been identifying and securing funding for the different focus areas. As grants are usually specific to one area, this poses a challenge, since VOIHCE has numerous focus areas throughout each school year, and depending on the group. Fortunately, during the past four years, Kids First has been able to secure a variety of grants for this program that have allowed the agency to continue supporting its youth advisory boards.
Thanks to the success of the ACHS VOIHCE, Kids First Health Care has expanded this opportunity to the middle schools it serves. Kids First recognizes that youth must first be empowered if they are to lead in their own health care and promote health awareness with their peers. Ultimately, this results in Kids First having a better chance of creating long-term changes in the communities it serves. As the VOIHCE youth have told the agency for many years, “You have to start this awareness when they’re young” - and that’s exactly what we intend to do.
To learn more about Kids First Health Care or donate, click here.