For so many teenagers, life seems a struggle, even without the grave complications of homelessness, poverty or untreated illness. But for those who carry all those burdens at once, life can seem impossible.
The multidisciplinary staff of the Mobile Adolescent Health Services program, one of Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital’s Community Partnership programs, provides expert care, custom-designed for high-risk youth ages 10-25 who rely exclusively on the Teen Van as their only link to a network of services and knowledge they urgently need. Since 1996, Packard Children’s has been mobilizing its experts and sending them out to meet vulnerable teens.
Program staff includes a physician specializing in adolescent medicine, a nurse practitioner, a social worker, a dietitian and a registrar/driver. The team provides
- Comprehensive treatment, including immunizations
- Complete physical exams
- Acute illness and injury care
- Pregnancy tests
- Pelvic exams
- Sexually transmitted disease testing and treatment
- Family planning
- HIV counseling and testing
- Health education
- Social services assessment and assistance
- Referrals to community partners and agencies
- Substance abuse counseling and referral
- Mental health counseling and referral
- Risk behavior reduction counseling
- Nutrition counseling
All services and medications are provided at no charge to the patients.
Program partners are the high schools and shelters whose employees refer teens to the program, provide space for clinic activities and work collaboratively with the Teen Van team to assure a safety net of health care, social services and educational programs for the youth.
During its scheduled visits to these schools and shelters in Santa Clara, San Mateo and San Francisco counties, the Teen Van brings much more than medical care to underserved teens. For many who receive care, the Teen Van provides one of the few reliable and positive supports in their lives, offering much-needed inspiration and relationships.
Social workers provide group classes on topics such as violence and dating, anxiety and relaxation, communication in relationships, eating disorders, body image, drug and alcohol education, and how to use health services provided by the Teen Van and in the community.
Whenever necessary, classes are augmented by one-on-one, short-term counseling.
Cooking classes, individual nutrition counseling, field trips to grocery stores, and access to healthy snacks are facilitated and directed by a dietitian.
Art expression and theater projects, developed together by a social worker and dietitian, offer a fun and encouraging forum for relationship-building with the teens and enhances communication among them.
The opportunity to participate in research projects that further the understanding of medical, psychosocial and nutritional issues that impact youth is an aspect of the Teen Van that benefits all our medical service partners and the individuals who rely on them for care. Questionnaires for participating teens draw out social, medical and demographic details, as well as family planning practices and preferences, knowledge of nutrition and nutritional behavior, habits of homeless and uninsured adolescents, and moral development in that population. Additionally, medical students, residents and fellows learn first-hand the very best in the practice of community medicine for underserved youth.
Homeless, uninsured and at-risk teens are usually hard to reach and slow to trust. Over its life span, the Teen Van has taken over 8,000 patient visits, all of whom are uninsured and nearly half are homeless. The Teen Van is clearly making a difference within the underserved youth population as the return visit rate is over 70% with the Teen Van staff seeing approximately 60% young women and 40% young men.