YFS administrator provides Healthy Youth Initiative update at council meeting

Organization reassesses Healthy Youth Survey.

A strong community effort is necessary to help make an impact in the youth wellness realm, according to Mercer Island Youth and Family Services (YFS) administrator Tambi Cork.

Along with YFS’s robust team of professionals making a difference through its grant-funded Healthy Youth Initiative (HYI) and other programs, copious Island parent groups and others are deeply involved in paving a safe life path for local youth.

Limerent, a public health media company, noted in a 2018 Mercer Island Healthy Youth Survey that striving for youth wellness is one of the city’s significant strengths, Cork told the city council during a June 7 presentation.

Council praised YFS’s important work during the trying times of the pandemic and continuously connecting with youth during their formative years.

“Given some of the realities of the pandemic of the last two years, we found that shifting our focus more away from societal and community level efforts and towards the relational and individual level efforts allow us to continue some progress during this very unique time,” Cork said.

While delivering her HYI update at the meeting, Cork focused on a host of programs that YFS has put into play that focus on substance use prevention and mental health promotion activities for residents ages 9-24 in alignment with federal funding guidelines.

Three of the evidence-based programs are geared toward parents: The Incredible Years Attentive Parenting, Parents of Adolescents and Teens in partnership with the Program for Early Parent Support (PEPS), and Guiding Good Choices.

YFS has run The Incredible Years program three to four times a year in a virtual setting since the outset of the pandemic. The University of Washington program for parents of children ages 2-6 — which focuses on school preparation, problem solving, social competence and more — is now offered in Mandarin.

A few other HYI programs that YFS has rolled out through partnerships include Mental First Aid, “Check In With Yourself Mercer Island,” Be Real for Youth Adults Mercer Island and KMIH 88.9 The Bridge’s Most Steer Clear radio campaign to center student voices.

“It’s been an exciting year and I am really proud of the ingenuity, creativity, tenacity of the YFS prevention team,” said Cork, who placed Chris Harnish, Michelle Ritter, Harry Brown and Derek Franklin’s names at the forefront of the organization’s effectiveness.

YFS is partnering with Limerent on a Youth Prevention Framework social marketing campaign, which features a revisitation of the qualitative data presented in the Healthy Youth Survey. The comprehensive assessment of areas of concern include pressure to succeed and perform. Limerent’s specialists gathered their information for the survey during three days of conversations and focus groups with students, parents and professionals.

While the prevention science-based report did list youth wellness as a top priority on the Island, Cork noted that two key findings stuck with her: Student alcohol use and binge drinking don’t always occur at social gatherings, and the permissible age of alcohol use is around 16 (information which was gathered from parents, youth and professionals, according to Cork).

“What YFS is really trying to reevaluate with this assessment is why are these risk factors happening here, and what are the short-term objectives related to what we’re seeing that can be influenced by this type of prevention strategy?” Cork said.

Since 2020, the HYI has been fully funded by two federal grants from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: Sober Truth on Prevention Underage Drinking (STOP Act) and Partnership for Success. For more information, visit www.mihealthyyouth.com/healthy-youth-initiative.