By Samantha Lowe
At-risk youth have strong negative Social Determinants of Health (SDoH), which include conditions in which you are born, grow, live, work and age. SDoH include biology and genetics, individual behavior, social environment, physical environment, and access of health services.
Supporting at-risk youth is of the utmost importance as they are less likely to have access to health care, health education, and formal sex education. Educating and equipping youth with personal safety, nutrition, and relationship skills, in a comfortable environment could be life changing, as at-risk youth are also more at risk for sexual violence.
A recent study conducted in Central Texas of youth enrolled in the Risk-Reduction Education about Abstinence, Contraception, and Health, or the REACH project (Wilson et al., 2018). 76 youth between the ages of 15-21 years, who were homeless, current or former foster youth, or youth who left high school prior to graduation made up the sample population (Wilson et al., 2018).
Across all groups (male, female, heterosexual and non-heterosexual), the most common topic that youth were interested in learning was Healthy Relationships and Personal Safety (Wilson et al., 2018). Overall, youth reported wanting to learn about these topics from a nurse/doctor or a teacher, reporting that it is difficult to learn about these topics from a family member (Wilson et al., 2018). The least preferred type of educators across all groups was a Faith Based Worker, while the mode of learning across all groups was the same, youth preferred to learn in a small group class setting (Wilson et al., 2018). In a surprising result, the least preferred mode of sexuality education was learning over technology, this included apps and text messaging (Wilson et al., 2018).
Supporting at-risk youth includes listening to their educational preferences, developing innovative programs and creating new ways to engage youth within the process. This does not stop or begin with sex education, it begins with supporting the child and the community. Keeping at risk students active, engaged in community activities, and informed on health risks and supports can begin in the classroom but needs to be continued once the students leave school. For example, relationships can be a difficult topic to cover in classroom and most learning opportunities about the topic are environmental, making out of school community supports a key factor (Wilson et al., 2018).
An organization who has been working to help at risk student populations is the Boys and Girls Clubs of America, they have been implementing a program titled, TRIPLE PLAY: GAME PLAN FOR MIND, BODY AND SOUL, a program designed to support youth who are raised in areas with poor SDoH.
The Boys and Girls Clubs of America continue to run research on how well the program is working, more information on the program along with statistics and research findings can be found at the link below!
Wilson, K., Maness, S., Thompson, E., Rosen, B., McDonald, S., & Wiley, D. (2018). Examining Sexuality Education Preferences Among Youth at Risk for Poor Sexual Health Outcomes Based on Social Determinants of Health Factors. American Journal Of Sexuality Education, 1-14. doi: 10.1080/15546128.2018.1447414