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Recap: Using Social and Behavior Change to Meet Youth FP/RH Needs

Roundtable on Emerging Resources and Knowledge

On September 29, 2021, Breakthrough ACTION hosted a discussion on meeting youth family planning and reproductive health (FP/RH) needs. Attendees had the opportunity to participate in three discussions that highlighted Breakthrough ACTION’s resources and knowledge on expanding youth access to FP/RH services and information.

Missed this discussion? You can view all the recordings on the Breakthrough ACTION YouTube page.

Overview and Roundtable Discussions

Using Social and Behavior Change to Meet Youth FP/RH Needs

Erin Portillo, senior program officer with Breakthrough ACTION and the discussion moderator, began with opening remarks and an overview of the agenda.

Participants then joined one of three roundtable discussions. Each breakout room’s facilitator first shared their experiences with including social and behavior change considerations in initiatives centered on youth FP/RH needs.

Social and behavior change (SBC) uses evidence-based interventions grounded in a deep understanding of human and societal behavior to increase the adoption of healthy behaviors and influence the social and structural factors that underpin them.

Participants then posed questions and discussed the presented project’s findings and implications. Below are key takeaways from each group.

Group 1—Family Planning Digital Literacy Review (Facilitator: Catherine Harbour, Senior Program Officer, Breakthrough ACTION)

Catherine Harbour described the project’s ongoing research on common strengths and pitfalls of educating youth on FP/RH via online methods. Harbour and her team have found that digital tools can be effective in connecting with youth. This is especially true when content fits their needs and is distributed through a variety of platforms youth already use.

Unfortunately, certain populations still have limited access to online content, suggesting that interventions should still be hosted in both on- and offline settings. In addition, the majority of available content is directed at girls or young women; boys and young men may have a harder time finding platforms and resources that address their specific needs.

The discussion focused on building trust between adult educators and young audiences. Participants shared how valuable it is for educators to keep up with new trends and create content that reflects what youth, parents, and families want at a given time. Funding and budgets should account for not only the creation of educational content but also for keeping existing campaigns up to date.

Youth appreciate how FP/RH information can be accessed online in a manner that seems relatively private and bias-free. However, participants noted that young people still require more education on media literacy and online safety skills. Otherwise, they may find it difficult to differentiate between fact and fiction.

Group 2—Testing and Adapting Empathways for Providers and Community Leaders in Côte d’Ivoire (French session recording and English interpretation) (Facilitator: Léopoldine Tossou, Breakthrough ACTION)

Empathways is a card activity designed to take youth clientele and their family planning service providers on a dynamic, engaging journey from awareness, to empathy, to action. The objective is to forge greater empathy between these groups and then for providers to apply this empathy to improve youth FP/RH service delivery.

Breakthrough ACTION developed Empathways for the purpose of building empathy between FP/RH service providers and the youth they serve. Building this empathy and developing trust can reduce the stigma and barriers that prevent youth from accessing contraception and reproductive health services. Léopoldine Tossou shared her experiences with successfully testing and adapting the Empathways tool for communities based in Côte d’Ivoire as part of Breakthrough ACTION’s Merci Mon Héros campaign.

In Empathways’ most recent version, parents, teachers, religious leaders, and other adults active in the lives of youth are included as intended audiences. This group’s discussion focused on the benefits of connecting with such diverse community members when implementing initiatives that promote youth family planning needs and services. Participants concluded that legal frameworks should also be created in order to further protect young people’s right to access these resources.

The Empathways tool is accessible online in both English and French.

Group 3—Liberia’s “Let’s Talk About Sex” Youth Listener Groups (Thon Okonlawan, Breakthrough ACTION)

Thon Okonlawan presented her experience in implementing Liberia’s Let’s Talk about Sex youth listener groups. This SBC campaign began with workshops where youth co-designed interventions that addressed barriers to youth FP/RH resource access.

Interventions Emerging From Design Workshops:

  1. Establishing new adolescent clubs where young people can regularly convene and discuss FP/RH topics in a comfortable, judgment-free space.
  2. Promoting knowledge and awareness of key youth FP/RH topics to a larger audience using a variety of different media, including radio, social media, and local campaigns.

Thon shared that these discussions help build trust between youth and providers, which in turn contributes to increased access to FP/RH services. The process strengthens youth self-efficacy, suggesting that when youth are in a secure space that removes them from social norms and bias, they are empowered to be their own change agents.

This group’s conversation focused on the importance of youth involvement with program planning from beginning to end. Young people were able to effectively collaborate with trusted partners and stakeholders, such as Community Health Assistants, who are respected community members. Additionally, parents participated in the youth-led discussion groups to understand how to have FP/RH conversations with their children. The Youth Listener Groups have been helpful for generating knowledge and building trust for community RH resources.

Reflection and Closing Remarks

As participants reconvened in the event’s main room, a representative from each group summarized their breakout session, providing an opportunity for further reflection and knowledge sharing.

Amy Uccello, Senior Youth and Reproductive Health Technical Advisor at the USAID Bureau for Global Health, closed the event with some remarks. She emphasized that SBC is especially valuable in programs aimed at young people because it promotes the life-long adoption of healthy behaviors while youth are facing new challenges for the first time. She stressed that it is important to engage with youth as equal partners, creating and using platforms that they feel are safe and trustworthy. Finally, she concluded with the reminder that while repeating key messages is an important SBC practice, youth may interpret this as there is only “one right way to live.” She emphasized that for youth SBC initiatives to be truly inclusive and impactful, they must also account for error, experimentation, and second chances.

“Mistakes are often our best teachers, and as much as we aim to mitigate the dangers posed by those mistakes, we do not want to exclude youth who have already lived very adult lives in the contexts in which we work. Telling youth that behavior is fluid could introduce the concept of renewable opportunities: that grit, perseverance, and adaptation are highly valued, and that their life trajectory is not fixed. There are opportunities to turn your decisions and behaviors into greater success. Most of all, it’s never too late…Only when young people feel accepted can they trust our programs and messages.”

Amy Uccello
Michelle Yao

AYSRH Content Practicum Student, Johns Hopkins Center for Communication Programs

Michelle Yao (she/her) is a full-time Master of Bioethics student at Johns Hopkins University. She holds a Bachelor of Health Sciences (with a Minor in English and Cultural Studies) from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. She has previously worked on community initiatives and research centered on child and youth health, reproductive justice, environmental racism, and cultural awareness in health education. As a practicum student, she supports content creation for Knowledge SUCCESS, with a focus on addressing the topic of adolescent and youth sexual and reproductive health.