Spotlight: The Pennsylvania MCH Approach to Supporting AYA Mental Health
August 19, 2022

Pennsylvania is one of the five state teams participating in the Adolescent & Young Adult (AYA) Behavioral Health learning collaborative, which aims to improve access to depression screenings with linkage to high quality follow-up care (if needed) among AYAs ages 12-25 years old. The Pennsylvania team is led by Julie Hohney, who serves as the Public Health Program Administrator in the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Division of Child and Adult Health Services. Pennsylvania’s Maternal & Child Health (MCH) program joined the collaborative in July 2021 to accelerate their efforts to address a priority need that emerged from their 2020 Title V Needs Assessment, which is to “improve mental health, behavioral health and developmental outcomes for children and youth with and without special health care needs.” Below, we highlight the Pennsylvania MCH program’s approach to addressing the priority need.

Partnering with Communities to Promote Prevention and Build Protective Factors

The goals and strategies in this approach are to:

  • Improve interpersonal relationships among youth through staff training and implementation of the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program (OBPP) for Community Youth Organizations. OBPP is a “comprehensive approach that includes schoolwide, classroom, individual, and community components.”
  • Increase understanding of healthy relationships among AYA males receiving trainings through Coaching Boys into Men Curriculum (CBIM). CBIM has been evaluated and found that “…athletes who participated in the program were significantly more likely to intervene when witnessing abusive or disrespectful behaviors among their peers, and were also more likely to report less abuse perpetration.”
  • Fund community-based organizations to implement mentorship programs for youth. Most recently, the Pennsylvania MCH program funded three organizations to implement these efforts: Big Brothers Big Sisters Independence Region, City Year Philadelphia, and Students Run Philly Style. Each youth mentoring grantee will use evidence-based mentoring approaches to provide opportunities for youth ages 8-18 to increase protective factors using frameworks that promote positive youth development.

Partner with Community-Based Organizations to Support the Mental Health of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+)  Youth

The goals and strategies in this approach are to:

  • Fund two community-based organizations to implement evidence-based interventions at the community level: Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation, Inc., an organization that raises health with LGBTQ+ and HIV communities, and Students Run Philly Style (SRPS), an organization that transforms students’ lives through running and mentorship.
    • The Hugh Lane Wellness Foundation will implement evidence-based programming for LGBTQ+ youth in Western Pennsylvania, such as: AFFIRMING Youth, Mental Health First Aid, and the ALGEE Method.
    • SRPS will implement their OutPace program with LGBTQ+ youth in Philadelphia. The OutPace program provides inclusive, informed support via the organization’s research-based mentoring services. SRPS will also recruit 100 adult mentors who will be trained in the evidence-based SRPS trauma-informed, strengths-based program that will enhance the mentor and mentee relationship and focus on best practices when working with LBGTQ+ youth.

Educate Youth and Providers

The goals and strategies in this approach are to:

  • Promote among adolescents and young adults via social media and other web-based platforms. is an online resource that provides youth-focused features and updates on several topics including human development, healthy relationships, decision-making, disease prevention, abstinence, sexual orientation, and gender identity all with an emphasis on encouraging youth to utilize local health centers.
  • Provide trainings to brain injury professionals on the correlation between substance use and brain injury. Trainings emphasize the importance of regular screening for substance use among brain injury patients.

Building on this approach through the AYA Behavioral learning collaborative:

The Pennsylvania MCH program is leveraging its participation in the AYA Behavioral Health project to build on their existing Title V action plan. In just one year since joining the CoIIN, the Pennsylvania CoIIN team had strengthened MCH’s partnership with their sister state agency, Pennsylvania’s Office of Mental Health and Substance Abuse (OMHSAS). The Pennsylvania MCH and OMHSAS teams have partnered to schedule and provide a training for adolescent service providers titled, “Gender Identity, When Do Children Know, and Much More: The Nuances of LGBTQ+ and Mental Health.” The types of learners who will benefit from the training include educators, social service agencies, families, behavioral health providers, drug and alcohol treatment providers, and more. Over 600 participants took part in the training, which was recorded to disseminate broadly to reach as many adolescent-serving providers as possible.

“Especially during the time of a pandemic, social service agencies have become more aware that mental health issues are far more prevalent than was once recognized and are compounded by so many outside factors.  As public health providers, we recognize the importance of cross-system collaboration to break down the silos that we often find ourselves working in, to identify new and innovative ways to reach those most at need.  There is so much to be learned from other governmental Departments and Agencies, as well as our community partners.  The work of the AYA-BH learning collaborative has allowed us to begin the conversation, reaching the most people and doing the most good by providing a way to share resources that may have otherwise been underutilized, while at the same time identifying issues that we may never have been unaware of.”

-Julie Hohney, Pennsylvania AYA Behavioral Health collaborative team lead




This work is funded by the Maternal and Child Health Bureau, Health Services and Resources Administration, USDHHS (cooperative agreement U45MC27709). The content of this blog are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by HRSA, HHS, or the U.S. Government.