Wish List for Creating Resources to Help Youth-Supporting Professionals Address Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health

November 2021

Introduction

This Wish List of strategies for creating resources for youth-supporting professionals is meant to guide resource developers in the creation of resources for youth-supporting professionals who work on behalf of youth with experience in the child welfare system, the justice system, and/or homelessness and opportunity youth.

 These strategies are meant to help improve the content, design (e.g., format), and dissemination of resources that address adolescent sexual and reproductive health.

This Wish List is based on a needs assessment conducted by Activate: The Collective to Bring Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health Research to Youth-Supporting Professionals and informed by the experiences and recommendations of an alliance of researchers, youth-supporting professionals, and young people .

 If you are somebody who creates resources for youth-supporting professionals, we hope you incorporate these strategies into your work.

The Wish List

 NO 1

Use a foundation of research and evidence when creating sexual and reproductive health resources for youth-supporting professionals.

Resources that include research-informed guidance can help youth-supporting professionals apply knowledge about what helps (or not) to promote or improve adolescent sexual and reproductive health in their work with young people. The body of research and evidence related to the sexual and reproductive health behaviors and service needs of Activate’s focal youth populations (young people with experience in the child welfare or justice systems, youth experiencing homelessness, and opportunity youth) is growing.

Research could consist of quantitative or qualitative studies, literature reviews, program evaluation studies, and program implementation studies. This research may be conducted in academic and non-academic research settings, but also through local, state, and federal agencies. When creating resources for youth-supporting professionals, draw upon the most recent and relevant research available.  

Activate’s needs assessment identified many examples of research-informed resources for youth-supporting professionals. As new research findings continue to emerge, professionals point to a need for additional and more updated resources, particularly resources tailored for supporting  Activate’s focal populations. For example, the Activate needs assessment found only limited research and few resources that address the sexual and reproductive health needs of opportunity youth. The needs assessment findings also showed that youth-supporting professionals are looking for more research-based resources that provide information about intimate partner violence, sexual assault, abuse and neglect, co-parenting and being a young parent, substance use and sex, and sex trafficking. Professionals want resources that focus on these topics specifically for young people with experience in the child welfare or justice systems, youth experiencing homelessness, and opportunity youth.

 NO 2

Engage young people in creating resources designed to address their sexual and reproductive health.

To develop resources and content that are relevant and useful for both young people and youth-supporting professionals, resource developers must engage young people in the planning and development of resources. Resource developers should work with youth to identify their sexual and reproductive health needs and what topics they would most like to discuss with youth-supporting professionals. More specifically, it is important to engage youth at multiple decision-making points during the resource development process and listen to their feedback, rather than involving youth after decisions have been made (e.g., asking for input only on the format of the resource, but not the content or topic). Resource developers should also plan to compensate youth for their contributions (e.g., youth receive a gift card for participating in a discussion about a resource).

Youth-supporting professionals and young people that contributed to Activate’s needs assessment suggested some examples of ways to authentically engage youth in resource development. As one example, participants suggested town halls or open feedback sessions where young people can come together with youth-supporting professionals and resource developers to talk about what sexual and reproductive health topics they find most pressing. In another example, participants suggested resource developers complete a brief survey of youth to determine the information and topics youth would like to see addressed in new resources for youth-supporting professionals. Additionally, resource developers can hire young people as consultants or hourly employees to be involved throughout the entire development process of a resource. Finally, resource developers should make sure they provide a safe, non-judgmental, and welcoming space for youth to share their opinions.

 NO 3

Prioritize your audience when developing and disseminating adolescent sexual and reproductive health resources for youth-supporting professionals.

When developing and disseminating a resource, it is always important to remember the intended audience (youth-supporting professionals). Resource developers can prioritize their audience in two different ways: 1) acknowledge the ways in which youth-supporting professionals access and use resources, and 2) incorporate input and feedback from professionals.

Many youth-supporting professionals have indicated barriers to accessing and utilizing resources, such as limited funds to purchase costly research-to-practice resources or access research, lack of time to search diligently for resources relevant to their work, and/or unclear guidance on the purpose of the resource or how to implement it in their work. Resources that are easy to find (e.g., clearly displayed on a website or shared via professional email lists), free to access, succinct with plain language, and that include a clearly articulated purpose and guidance for use (e.g., tangible tips) can mitigate these potential barriers to accessing resources.

One way resource developers can ensure they are considering their audience from the beginning is involving them in the creation and brainstorming stages of the resource. Examples include hosting feedback sessions or sharing drafts of the resource with youth-supporting professionals to review.

 NO 4

Create opportunities for collaboration between resource developers, researchers, youth-supporting professionals, and young people.

Creating research-informed and practical resources can be a great way to create opportunities for collaboration among researchers, resource developers, youth-supporting professionals, and young people. Collaboration can focus on developing resources (e.g., collaboratively identifying which topics are important to highlight) and/or dissemination (e.g., working together to disseminate a resource can increase its potential reach and help identify a variety of audiences). For example, resources can be collaboratively written by researchers, youth-supporting professionals, and youth to better identify concrete and relevant practice implications from research findings. Additionally, resource developers can add interactive components to their resources (e.g., discussion questions, adding a QR code that takes readers to a shared discussion space) to promote collaboration among the resource audience. Incorporating opportunities for collaboration at each stage of designing and disseminating a resource (e.g., brainstorming, drafting) can improve the resource’s ultimate effectiveness and increase its usability among youth-supporting professionals.

 NO 5

Use engaging formats when creating adolescent sexual and reproductive health resources for youth-supporting professionals.

Due to the fast-paced and busy nature of their work, youth-supporting professionals need resources that synthesize substantive information into a digestible format, that retain the accuracy of the content, and that include necessary contextual information and examples. For example, resources that include both high-level summaries and a “read more” option give professionals the opportunity to quickly scan the information, but also go deeper into the content if needed. Resource developers should use plain and accessible language so that a variety of audiences can use them. Learn more about using plain language at www.plainlanguage.gov.  

Further, developing a resource in an engaging or visually appealing format can help improve its effectiveness and increase its use. Formats that youth-supporting professionals told us they prefer include short, animated videos, digital games that raise awareness, infographics, storytelling and testimonials directly from youth that highlight both their successes and challenges , web-based resources, social media posts, podcasts, phone apps, tip sheets or fact sheets, briefs, and trainings and workshops.

 NO 6

Integrate trauma-informed approaches into adolescent sexual and reproductive health resources for youth-supporting professionals.

Young people with experience in the child welfare or justice systems, youth experiencing homelessness, and opportunity youth are more likely to have a history of exposure to traumatic events than youth who have not experienced these systems, including physical and sexual trauma.1 Professionals who work with youth with experience in the child welfare system, justice system, and/or homelessness and with opportunity youth need resources that directly address youth experiences with trauma and its impact on sexual and reproductive health. Resource developers should provide concrete strategies for using trauma-informed approaches when working with youth.

The following resources provide more information about trauma-informed approaches and strategies for addressing adolescent sexual and reproductive health that can be integrated into future resources:  

 NO 7

Recognize and be inclusive of the diverse identities and experiences of young people when developing adolescent sexual and reproductive health resources for youth-supporting professionals.

Young people with experience in the child welfare or justice systems, youth experiencing homelessness, and opportunity youth have diverse identities (e.g., sexual identity, gender identity, racial identity, parental status) that shape their sexual and reproductive health behaviors and service needs. Respect for youth’s diverse physical and mental abilities is also important. Resource developers should consider creating resources that address the diverse identities and experiences of youth, including the intersectionality of different identities. For an example of an approach to provide LGBTQ+-inclusive sexual health care and sexual health literacy programs for youth in state custody, see TEENSENSE Model Standards: Sexual Health Literacy for Youth in State Custody.   

Researchers, youth-supporting professionals, and youth also voiced a need for resources for youth-supporting professionals that are “culturally responsive,” or respectful of and responsive to the health beliefs, practices, and cultural and linguistic needs of diverse youth. Specifically, Activate’s Research Alliance members value resources that include content that is relevant for culturally and linguistically diverse youth populations, unbiased, and inclusive of the experiences of Black youth, Indigenous youth, and youth of color.  

 NO 8

Acknowledge the role of structural racism in shaping adolescent sexual and reproductive health behaviors and service needs.

Adolescents’ sexual and reproductive health-related behaviors are influenced by many social determinants of health, including healthcare access and quality (e.g., insurance coverage), education access and quality (e.g., high school graduation), social and community context (e.g., social support), economic stability (e.g., engaged in school or work), and neighborhood context (e.g., community violence). Activate’s Research Alliance emphasized that resources that acknowledge the connections between these factors and how they impact young people’s sexual and reproductive health will help youth-supporting professionals move beyond viewing the decisions youth make as isolated events and toward a more holistic approach.

Further, the Activate needs assessment findings emphasized that resources should acknowledge the effects of structural racism and the trauma caused by systems of oppression. Historically, Black, Indigenous, and people of color have been systematically denied the right to bodily autonomy, including reproductive health rights. Black youth, Indigenous youth, and youth of color often do not have equal access to the same high-quality healthcare as White youth. Resources that acknowledge these realities are essential if youth-supporting professionals are to effectively address the sexual and reproductive health needs of young people with experience in the child welfare system, justice system, and/or homelessness and opportunity youth.

 NO 9

Use non-judgmental and inclusive language in adolescent sexual and reproductive health resources for youth-supporting professionals.

The use of appropriate, respectful, and non-judgmental language should be a key consideration when developing resources related to sexual and reproductive health for youth. Resource developers must pay careful attention to the language they use to ensure it is inclusive, accepting, and non-stigmatizing to connect with youth more effectively. Specifically, resource developers should move away from potentially value-laden language (e.g., only focusing on pregnancy prevention) toward more affirming and inclusive language that acknowledges the various sexual and reproductive health experiences, needs, and desires of youth. For example, resources that have language focused on reproductive rights (e.g., rights to confidentiality or consent for medical procedures) or family planning and healthy relationships can be more inclusive of youth experiences and needs than resources that only use language about preventing pregnancy.

Further, resource developers should also work to address their own implicit biases that may impact the language in their resources. For example, Activate’s needs assessment found that some professionals stray away from discussing certain topics due to discomfort resulting from personal or religious biases. Implicit bias trainings or consultations with supervisors and managers may be helpful. Remember that the goal should be to allow all youth to feel comfortable and accepted as they explore and improve their sexual and reproductive health.  

 NO 10

Consider a broad range of topics related to adolescent sexual and reproductive health.

Although adolescent sexual and reproductive health often focuses on teen pregnancy prevention and sexually transmitted infections, framing adolescent health in these risk-avoidant terms may lead to youth feeling judged and not interested in the topic. Youth-supporting professionals, young people, and researchers involved in the Activate needs assessment all emphasized a need for resources focused on sexual and reproductive health topics that go beyond pregnancy and STI prevention and that acknowledge the diverse sexual and reproductive health experiences, needs, and desires of youth. Some examples of topics that reflect a broader conceptualization of adolescent sexual and reproductive health and where more evidence-based resources for youth-supporting professionals are needed include:  

  • The impact of sexual trauma, abuse, and assault on adolescent’s sexual and reproductive health
  • Dating violence and intimate partner violence
  • Future plans and goals
  • Healthy relationships
  • Sex trafficking

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Chapin Hall

Child Trends

Healthy Teen Network

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This project is supported by the Office of Population Affairs of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $1,092,000 with 100 percent funded by OPA/OASH/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement by, OPA/OASH/HHS, or the U.S. government. For more information, please visit https://opa.hhs.gov/.

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