Building and Sustaining Community Partnerships for Teen Pregnancy Prevention: A Working Paper. F. Seattle, Washington


Seattle Partners in Action for Teen Health (PATH) began in 1993, when new statistics revealed that the White Center neighborhood had the second highest rate of teen pregnancy in the State. The White Center community is diverse and includes 40 percent Southeast Asians, who are themselves a very diverse group. Many teens in the area live at or below the poverty level and have four or five risk factors for negative outcomes. The Southwest Teen Pregnancy Prevention Alliance, part of a larger coalition of social service providers who met (and still meet) monthly to share information and support, wanted to do something about the problem. They did not want to create new programs but wanted to coordinate services and identify gaps.

This group spent much of the early years learning "how to be a collaboration." For some time, program development was neglected as the partnership was created. They hired a facilitator to help identify issues and define the collaboration partners' roles. They worked on crossing professional and jurisdictional boundaries. And they worked on creating a flat, non-hierarchical structure. At first, two of the partners assumed fiscal responsibility and managed the hiring and supervision of staff. However, without coordination at the partnership level, staff worked at cross purposes, and there was a great deal of frustration and dissatisfaction.

Eventually, the collaboration hired a program coordinator. Although technically staff are still hired through the two agencies that have fiscal responsibility, the program coordinator is intimately involved in hiring and supervises the staff, which includes one community organizer, one health educator, and one employment/mentorship development specialist, one intern, and a group of regular translators. The coordinator makes day-to-day decisions. The 12 collaborative partners, who include agency representatives and individuals, provide guidance on policy, programming, fundraising, and community awareness issues. There is no lead agency; the partnership calls itself "nonhierarchical." Decisions are made by consensus and cooperation. Responsibility is shared. Possible new members are interviewed to determine their philosophical fit with the group.

Partners in PATH attribute their successful organizing effort to the members' genuine sense of goodwill, commitment to the collaboration, and willingness to set aside personal and organizational biases to achieve their common goals. They spoke openly about their competing agendas and their concerns. They worked around different personal and communication skills. They agreed not to micro-manage the daily operation of the program.

Early in the program's development, PATH struggled to involve parents and other residents. Now, after five years, the program has become a fixture in the community, a long-term endeavor that residents view as committed to the area. Community adults and teens value PATH's presence, and youth especially seek to be involved. At the end of 1997, when members of the Christian Coalition attacked PATH, the community rallied to its defense. Part of PATH's acceptance is due to the staff, who share the philosophy of the program and reflect the community ethnically.

In addition to community acceptance, other measures of PATH's success include the remarkable stability of the group, which retains all except one of its original members. The staff has grown from one to five. This past year PATH received a grant from the Children's Aid Society and is a replication site for the Carrera model. In conjunction with this grant, participants have increased from 30 to 100. PATH's program has changed somewhat as a result of the grant; it will soon be a six-part, comprehensive program that includes academic assessment and tutoring, life time sports, self-expression/arts, employment and career awareness and training, family life/sexuality education, comprehensive health services, and mental health care. Parents of participants are involved in Plain Talk for Parents, in family meetings, and in assisting in programs in various ways.

A state evaluation that ended in July 1997 called PATH a "promising approach," although problems with the control communities prevented clear comparisons. The Children's Aid Society program is being evaluated using an experimental design. Students are surveyed every six months on behavior and risk indicators. First year results will be available in late 1998. Participants report a great deal of satisfaction with the program, attend activities regularly, have helped recruit new participants, and have stayed connected to the program through the changes.

The partners see the Children's Aid Society grant as an opportunity to gain credibility from the name and the national reputation of the Carrera model. The evaluation of their program, funded by the grant, should assist PATH in securing the resources for long-term sustainability.