Engaging youth in community health needs assessments: what are the opportunities, methodological approaches, contributions, and feasibility?
Chen, Brittany Hsiang
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Community engagement in health assessment enables researchers to better understand and prioritize community needs. The value of community engagement is increasingly documented; however, few studies engage youth. Research and assessments are often done for youth, but not with youth. Youth bring a unique contextual lens to community issues; without engagement, the likelihood that resultant efforts would be accepted by or appropriate for youth decreases. This dissertation explores opportunities and methodological approaches for, and contributions and feasibility of engaging youth in non-profit hospital community health needs assessments (CHNAs) mandated through the Affordable Care Act. This study has three specific aims, utilizing multiple methodological approaches: • Aim 1: Assess the current level of youth engagement, and prevalence of youth-focused priority areas in Massachusetts CHNAs. CHNAs were reviewed and analyzed using the Community Health Improvement Data Sharing System’s community engagement template. • Aim 2: Compare assessment results of focus groups and participatory photo mapping (PPM) in documenting youth observations of Boston community conditions. Three focus groups and PPM processes engaged 46 high-school age youth. Data were qualitatively compared, with attention to youth-identified community assets, concerns, and recommendations. • Aim 3: Compare youth results with existing CHNAs and identify potential contributions of youth engagement. Using the social determinants of health framework, youth recommendations were compared to Boston hospital community health improvement (CHI) publications to observe the convergence and divergence of priorities. While all MA hospitals minimally complied with required CHNA community engagement criteria, there was no standard practice or approach. 20% of CHNAs engaged youth, primarily through focus groups; yet, 80% of CHNAs that identified priorities included youth-focused priorities. Youth-driven results focused upon social determinants of health factors; furthermore, PPM results provided more detailed and granular CHI recommendations. Youth-identified CHI recommendations complemented those identified by hospitals, indicating that youth engagement can potentially strengthen CHI priorities and identify salient strategies for addressing youth health, specifically. Findings can be extrapolated to the many institutions conducting assessments, including health departments and Community Action Agencies. Findings will be disseminated through a series of practice briefs that make recommendations to hospitals, assessment practitioners, and youth organizations to consider for future efforts.