The City of Houston is the seat of Harris County, the most populous county in Texas and the third most populous county in the United States. In 2004, the jurisdiction’s AIDS case rate of 23.9 (per 100,000 residents) was higher than the national AIDS case rate of 15. The City of Houston accounts for more than 95 percent of HIV/AIDS cases within Harris County. Through a recent Community Planning Group (CPG) activity to identify Behavioral Risk Groups, youth between the ages of 13 to 24 years were identified as one of the priority populations.
Year One (2008–2009)
During the first year of its demonstration site project, the City of Houston Department of Health and Human Services (HDHHS) joined forces with the Houston Independent School District (HISD) to develop a collaborative action plan focused on the establishment of a Sharpstown Healthy Adolescent and Young Adult Collaborative (SHAYC). The target area for this project was the Southwest region of the City of Houston, specifically Sharpstown High School and its feeder schools. Sharpstown has a highly diverse population with the largest number of Hurricane Katrina/Rita evacuees in Houston and many socioeconomic factors that place youth at high risk for HIV/STI infection and unintended pregnancy. The goal of SHAYC is to build a network of partners to identify strategies to address adolescent health issues, including HIV/STI and unintended pregnancy, in Sharpstown via convening monthly stakeholder meetings, reestablishing community networks, and increasing community awareness about adolescent health issues.
Lessons Learned for Other Local Health Departments (LHDs):
- All organizations involved have to make a conscious decision to achieve a more collaborative relationship by working together more closely, holding planning meetings more often, sharing information about other projects, exploring additional activities for future collaboration, and communicating more frequently by phone and e-mail.
- Local health department staff should invest a lot of time up front with the Local Education Authority staff appointed to work with them. This allows enough time to nurture the relationship before the collaborative is started.
- Become aware of other projects the education agency is involved in and offer participation and assistance.
- It is helpful for the school district staff to communicate with the leadership at the school campus project site to lend additional support for the collaborative projects and to promote site-specific buy-in.
- Access to funds that support partners’ ability to plan and function collaboratively are helpful in developing relationships.
Year Two (2009–2010)
During the second year, Houston’s collaborative action plan focused on three goals: 1) increase knowledge and teach healthy decision making skills related to prevention of HIV, STIs, and teen pregnancy for youth at Sharpstown High School, 2) engage students from the South and West Regions of Houston in grades 6–12 in age appropriate topics so that they are able to make well informed decisions about their health, and 3) develop awareness about HIV, STIs, and teen pregnancy for youth in Southwest Houston and other communities throughout the city by holding community youth meetings in non-school settings.
- Implementation of a Teen/Parent Health Summit. The Youth/Parent Health Summit provided the HDHHS with the opportunity to work within the school system and to further develop their relationship with the HISD.
- Co-sponsorship of Community Youth Meetings. The community youth meetings offered HDHHS a way to reach out to other youth serving organizations in the community and to extend outreach efforts to a wider range of Houston youth.
Lessons Learned for Other LHDs:
- LHDs would benefit from involving their Local Education Agencies (LEAs) when they are deciding and planning to apply for grants/funding.
- LHDs would benefit from learning as much as possible about their LEA. Most importantly, find out the roles that various individuals play at the school district level and at any particular school campus selected for a program.
- LHDs would benefit greatly from becoming aware of local district/school policies related to the subject or topic for your programs.
- It is helpful for LHDs to investigate other projects already in progress, especially if the LHD is involved.
- Always look for ways to continue to build the relationship with your LEA. Find projects that the LEA and LHD can work on as a team and toward a common goal. Invite your LEA to participate in other community projects the LHD is working on.
To review Houston’s complete collaborative action plan for Year Two, click here.
Year Three (2010-2011)
During the third year, Houston's collaborative action plan focused on four goals: 1) ensure that HDHHS and HISD would be able to continue working to implement a program at Sharpstown High School, 2) increase knowledge of HIV/STIs and teen pregnancy and teach healthy decision making skills for youth at Sharpstown High School, 3) provide students in grades 6-12 and their parents with information and resources to help them make well informed decisions about adolescent health issues, and 4) increase awareness of HIV/STIs and teen pregnancy for youth who do not attend Sharpstown High School, but who live in Southwest Houston.
- Ensured continuation of specific demonstration site programs through the Healthy Adolescent Initiative, a project funded by the Texas Department of State Health Services.
- The development of monthly community youth meetings, which were established to help increase awareness of HIV/STIs and teen pregnancy for youth who do not attend Sharpstown High School, but who live in Southwest Houston. Through HDHHS's partnership with Houston Parks and Recreation, the meetings are also open to Houston youth living outside the Southwest area. The community meetings are youth led and supported, which has given a voice to youth in Houston, particularly those living in Southwest Houston. Through The Healthy Adolescent Initiative, the meetings will be able to continue and grow into the future.
- New partnerships have been developed with youth serving organizations as a result of the community youth meetings. These new partnerships are now an important part of the framework for the meetings.
- One staff person from HISD and one staff person from HDHHS attended a training for trainers on the Search Institute's 40 Developmental Assets for Adolescents, which include teaching youth to make responsible decisions about their sexual health. Based on knowledge gained through the training, HDHHS hopes to engage Sharpstown High School teachers and students, as well as the surrounding community, in learning and practicing the 40 Developmental Assets.
Lessons Learned for Other LHDs:
- Every large entity, including LEAs, has a culture of its own and in order to collaborate effectively with such an entity, it is beneficial to invest time in learning to appreciate one another.
- When collaborating with an LEA, it will be beneficial to be aware of the working relationship between district level staff and school campus staff.
- When working with an LEA on a project involving sexuality, teen pregnancy prevention, and/or HIV and STI prevention, learn what the policies are for teaching these topics and how to work within the policies.
To review Houston’s complete collaborative action plan for Year Three, click here.
Materials and Tools Developed
Teen Summit Flyer
Parent/Teen Health Summit Evaluation Form