Rafton’s Round Up: Strong Partners and Upstream Change

Sarah Rafton, MSW

WCAAP is a longstanding and active member in many coalitions and workgroups, most notably the Health Coalition for Children & Youth, the Prevention Alliance, and the Children & Youth Behavioral Health Workgroup. In recent years, we have also formed WCAAP-led committees to encourage involvement broader than pediatric health care providers alone.

WCAAP’s Champions for Youth facilitates collaboration among Washington school, primary care, health plans, and public health leaders to positively impact preventive healthcare, public health, family, child and teen well-being. And WCAAP’s First Year Families advances medical homes’ impact on early relational health and family well-being.

As I reflect on recent accomplishments, today’s challenges and where we are heading, it is increasingly evident that WCAAP is uniquely positioned to be the voice for upstream investments, prevention and early intervention for families, children and teens, and only through our strong partnerships will we be able to make the difference that kids so desperately need and deserve today.

You all know and have been deeply touched and frustrated by the breadth of teens and tweens who are in emotional distress today. From the most recent Healthy Youth Survey, a vast majority of 8th, 10th and 12th graders in our state reported frequent worrying or anxiety and 35-45% of these students reported hopelessness. For years, WCAAP has placed the highest priority on increasing access to mental health care for kids in need and will continue to do so.

However, we must further innovate to meet an entire population of kids in need. The capacity for counseling with licensed professionals is gravely insufficient for needs of this scale. Through our collective primary care and psychiatric expertise, partnership with schools, and hopefully, with parents and teens, we will need to identify how to positively impact tweens and teens upstream to stem emerging difficulties and support kids more rapidly with tools for emotional well-being. I am encouraged by the creativity and dedication of our members and Champions for Youth in strategizing how to better support such large numbers of kids in need.

Even further upstream we can impact family well-being in the first years of life to promote relational health and in turn prevent later development of adolescent behavioral health needs. First Year Families is motivated to address findings of Washington State’s 2023 Maternal Mortality Report, including several recommendations we could potentially pursue to improve health care quality and access for birthing people and infants in hospitals and primary care clinics. We have the First Year Families committee to thank for their vision and desire for pediatric Community Health Workers, and I am hopeful that this group will chart an innovative course to impact maternal and infant health.

Please contact me if you have ideas about proven policies or investments for broad-based youth well-being or bridging maternal and infant health care and please contact our staff if you want to join one of these two WCAAP committees.