LOS ANGELES, CA -- On Wednesday, officials from the County of Los Angeles , including the Board of Supervisors, the Departments of Public Health (Public Health) and Mental Health (Mental Health), Planned Parenthood Los Angeles (PPLA), the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE), and the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) announced a groundbreaking effort to address the social, emotional, and sexual health needs of young people throughout Los Angeles County. At a press conference held at Esteban E. Torres High School in East Los Angeles, the coalition of partners announced the opening of Wellbeing Centers (Centers) at 50 high schools to create a safe space on school campuses where students can receive health affirming services and support they need to lead healthy lives.
Research suggests that many youths enrolled in LA County schools may lack preventative care at an age when risk is highest for uptake of smoking/vaping, for unsafe sex and other unhealthy behaviors including use of alcohol and other substances. The Centers will offer services to educate students for lifelong protective practices and promote social/emotional well-being, youth leadership, and sexual health. These spaces will be youth-friendly and will provide students with a safe, welcoming place where they will find caring adults, supportive peers and integrated services.
“Empowering our teenagers is a priority. We must support the well-being of our youth so they can thrive at school and view their futures with optimism and hope,” said Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda L. Solis. “Wellbeing Centers provide students a safe space to receive information and resources on substance use prevention, sexual health, and mental health. When we invest in our youth, we all win. Our teenagers will grow to become our future political leaders, artists, teachers, and scientists. I am proud LA County’s first Wellbeing Center will be located at Esteban Torres High School, in the heart of the First District.”
“We are excited about this new partnership with schools, the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health and Planned Parenthood to address the social, emotional and sexual health needs of adolescents while keeping them safe and in school,” said Dr. Barbara Ferrer, Director of the Los Angeles County of Public Health. “Ultimately, we all want to ensure that students are given every opportunity to grow into their fullest potential, feeling loved without prejudice, as they walk confidently into their brightest futures. We believe the Wellbeing Centers will play a critical role in accomplishing this important mission, and we thank the Board of Supervisors, Dr. Duardo and Superintendent Beutner for their unwavering support.”
“The school-based Wellbeing Centers present both safe places to learn and talk freely about many of the stigmatizing issues our kids face on a daily basis as well as avenues of access to direct, quality services when indicated,” said Dr. Jonathan Sherin, Director of the Los Angeles County Department of Mental Health. “We are so honored to participate as partners across the health and educational domains for the bright minds and warm hearts that will lead our communities of the future.”
“Our schools desperately need on-site resources to promote student mental health and wellness so that teachers can teach and students can learn,” said Los Angeles County Superintendent of Schools Debra Duardo. “The Well Being Centers provide this support by harnessing resources from across the county to benefit our students and staff. They exemplify the meaningful impact of multiple agencies coming together on behalf of kids and families.”
“Healthy, supported and empowered students achieve more,” Board Member Mónica García said. “Thank to you to our partners at Los Angeles County and Planned Parenthood for your dedication to make this a reality for our youth. Our students will be receiving the services they deserve and need to succeed, both inside and outside of the classroom. Access to the Wellbeing Centers for our students is truly another important step in reaching 100% graduation and ensuring that our students are well prepared for college, career and life after high school!”
“Our Wellbeing Center at Esteban Torres High School will give students access to the care they need,” Superintendent Austin Beutner said. “Making sure students are healthy will allow them to get the most of out of their education.”
“Mental and behavioral health issues, substance use, and lack of knowledge around sexual health, can create barriers to academic success,” said Sue Dunlap, CEO for Planned Parenthood Los Angeles.” Finding support for these issues generally requires students go off campus and means time away from class, money for transportation, and explaining your whereabouts to others, all hurdles that loom large for teens. PPLA is proud to partner with the education and health systems in the region to improve the lives of our students and strengthen the next generation of leaders.”
Each Center is staffed by two Public Health Master’s level Health Educators, who will facilitate classes, educational groups, and activities aimed at equipping teens with information about substance use prevention, behavioral health, and sexual health, as well as the skills they need to have healthy relationships, protect their health, and plan for the future. Through in-Center and in-classroom activities, the Health Educators deliver an age-appropriate, evidence-informed curriculum that complies with California Healthy Youth Act (CHYA) requirements with added emphasis on behavioral health, substance use and social and emotional well-being.
PPLA will provide a full range of sexual health services one day a week at Bell High School, Esteban E. Torres High School, South East High School, South Gate High School, and West Adams Preparatory High School, with the intent to expand to all 50 schools on a rolling basis over two years. DPH will provide limited sexual health services until PPLA has joined the Wellbeing Center at each school as well as substance use education and referral. DMH will run mental health support groups around a range of teen concerns, including stress, anxiety and depression. They will also offer linkages to community mental health providers for students with more intensive mental health needs and advise DPH Youth Educators on any student mental health concern that arises in the course of health education discussions.