We help providers, professionals, and parents, identify and reduce risk behaviors among youth and young adults. So you might imagine that in our line of work that we’ve “heard it all.”
And yes, we’ve heard a lot, but it’s not the stories and information that young people share that shocks us. It’s what we hear from youth-centric organizations (provider groups, schools, health departments…) about why they don’t screen for risk behaviors that we find flat out scary.
Here are the top 5 worst reasons we’ve heard…so far.
1. If we know about a risk we’ll be responsible to take action. At it’s core, we believe that this reason isn’t just about liability – it’s about the fear of what happens if something goes wrong. Think past that initial reaction – and it becomes obvious that we’d all feel equally terrible (and potentially, even as liable) if something goes wrong (such as an overdose, a suicide attempt, unreported abuse or bullying…) and we didn’t know about it in advance. No one is expecting you to be the expert at every risk or situation. Identifying risks in advance allows youth to “get it off their chest” and you to provide resources and when necessary referrals to the right experts who can help to prevent bad things from getting worse – or maybe even from happening at all.
2. We don’t have the time. It’s true, you always need more time. Our company was founded by a clinician with years of experience in busy pediatric and adolescent practices. Finding practical solutions that minimize impact on time and workflow is at the heart of everything we do. Did you know that in less than 5 minutes RAAPS identifies the risks that contribute most to preventable illness and death in young people aged 9 to 24? Even in the tightest of workflows in organizations that run like clockwork you’ll find a 5-minute window of wait time for the patient – why not put that time to (really meaningful) use?
3. We don’t have the money. You’ve heard that expression: “If it’s important you’ll find a way. If it’s not you’ll find an excuse.” To be fair, we think this reason is more about priorities than excuses. There are so many competing priorities for organizations that serve youth it’s hard for anything new to find it’s way to the top of the list. Think about the things that do get prioritized: vaccines; assessments of height, weight and blood pressure; current medications and allergies… Why do these things sift to the top? They save lives. Now think about this CDC statistic: risk behaviors are responsible for 3 out of 4 (75%) of all preventable deaths and illness in youth. Risk screening saves lives. And the cost? One month of access to the RAAPS system costs the same as a single case of coffee pods or printing paper. Really, we think it’s all about the priorities.
4. We don’t want to upset parents. That’s cool. Honestly, neither do we, but realistically how upset do you think parents will be if there is an uptick in bullying, an increase in youth carrying weapons, or a widespread incidence of sexual abuse that could have been identified with standardized screening? As providers of risk identification and reduction tools we have time-tested, proven strategies and resources for helping parents understand risk screening – why it’s important and how it helps. And trust us, that’s an easier conversation to have proactively than reactively.
5. We don’t know what to say. There’s no doubt: conversations about risk are uncomfortable. But did you know that having a trusted adult to confide in is one of the single most important mitigating factors in reducing youth risk? Just by being present and starting the conversation you’ve helped. So take the next step. If you are uncomfortable with discussing certain topics – get help. Participate in a workshop on adolescent-focused motivational interviewing; choose a risk screening system that offers built in health education so all youth get the same information (every time); and make sure that system provides you with evidence-based messages and talking points to help get the conversation started. Because let’s be real – saving a life significantly outweighs one uncomfortable conversation.