May 24, 2022

Groups Call on Florida Officials to Reverse Withdrawal from Youth Risk Behavior Survey

Florida non-profits, advocacy organizations, doctors, and others cast doubt on state’s plan to develop its own health risk behavior survey

ORLANDO, Fla. - Thirty-eight organizations and 40 individuals from across the state today called on the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) to resume administration of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC’s) Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) and expressed “significant concerns” over the department’s announcement that it will develop its own health risk behavior survey.

Florida has participated in the YRBS since 1991. Recently, however, the state withdrew from the survey, and the FDOE has indicated that the department will be developing its own health risk survey.

Norín Dollard, PhD, senior policy analyst and KIDS COUNT® director at Florida Policy Institute (FPI), said: “The YRBS data is widely used across Florida by the education and public health community to ensure we attend to the physical and mental well-being of Florida’s young people. This data provides unique and critical insight into how risk behaviors are changing over time and how students of color and LGBTQ students are faring. Changing surveys in mid-stream starts a new baseline and disrupts our ability to have strong public health policy that meets the needs of all of Florida’s youth.”

In a letter addressed to FDOE Interim Commissioner Jacob Oliva, the group notes that by exiting the YRBS, the department will be forfeiting the recurring funding from the CDC to administer the survey, and they point to the significant cost associated with developing and testing a new, reliable instrument for measuring students’ health and well-being.

The signees also caution that implementing a new measure will “interrupt our ability to compare ourselves to the national average and to other states with similar populations,” and that creating a new baseline will negate the ability to see progress over time.

There are currently 47 states who participate in the YRBS, which —  according to the CDC — monitors “health behaviors that contribute markedly to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems among youth and adults in the United States.”

Rindala Alajaji, public policy associate at Equality Florida, said: “Youth Risk Behavior Data clearly shows an epidemic related to the mental health needs of our students and that our schools are less safe now than they have been in the past decade. We should be focused on supporting our students and creating safer schools, not hiding the data that is elevating these concerns."

Angela R. Mann, president of the Florida Association of School Psychologists, said: “Given that schools often don't routinely survey students about their wellbeing and that the YRBS allows students to anonymously report, YRBS data is critical to helping school psychologists and other school-based mental health professionals across the state keep a pulse on the mental health and wellness of the youth we serve. These data help us to better understand trends in concerns youth are facing so that we can better problem solve and target supports, particularly for youth who we know are unlikely to be able to access mental health services in other community-based settings for a variety of reasons. These data are vital to our work and to the wellness of youth across the state.”

Alison Yager, executive director of Florida Health Justice Project, said: “The YRBS is an essential and unique tool for understanding the health of youth in our state, and around the country. YRBS data allow legislators, policymakers, health and social service providers, and teachers to meet our students where they are, and to invest appropriately to meet their needs. It also allows us to see what investments are working, so we can do the greatest good. Taking away this tool will hurt our youth, and will hamper the efforts of all those who dedicate their professional lives to our young people.”

Takeata King Pang, executive director of the Women's Foundation of Florida, said: “The decision to stop collecting YRBS data will hurt youth across Florida. We already know that youth were struggling pre-pandemic. Discontinuing the YRBS will prevent us from seeing the real effects of the pandemic on our youth.”

KIDS COUNT® is a registered trademark of The Annie E. Casey Foundation in the United States and/or other countries and is used with permission of the Foundation.

FPI, the state’s KIDS COUNT partner, is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

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