Advancing adolescent health + education in Kenya | CorStone

Youth First Kenya

Youth First | Kenya

Background + Situation

At least one in seven youth in Sub-Saharan Africa face mental health problems and approximately one in ten has a diagnosable mental illness. The time to prevent mental illnesses is during adolescence, as 75% of mental disorders emerge by age 24.

Mental health concerns among youth are further fueled by systems of entrenched inequities, discrimination, and resource scarcity, exacerbated by a lack of access to services. Kenya’s youth are no exception: they face rising alcohol and drug misuse, teenage pregnancies – often resulting from transactional relationships or abuse—increasing gambling, and intensifying poverty, with many households struggling to support large families.

While prevention and promotion strategies are crucial, Kenya has focused to date on diagnosis and treatment. In recognition of this gap, the 2015-2030 Kenya Mental Health Policy, 2021-2025 Kenya Mental Health Action Plan, 2020 Kenya Mental Health Taskforce, and 2022 Kenya Suicide Prevention Strategy all put forward preventive school-based mental health services as policy priorities.

CorStone Response | Youth First Kenya

Youth First is a teacher-facilitated, school-based program in Kenya that draws from the latest research in resilience, positive psychology, and social-emotional learning, in which potential risks or threats to well-being are addressed by boosting internal assets and external supports.

The program seeks to build social and emotional assets, such as coping skills, character strengths, and positive self-regard, as well as improve adolescent health. Students who are well equipped with such internal resources coupled with stronger external supports have been shown to experience reduced rates of depression, have improved social skills, remain in and be more engaged at school, and perform better academically.

The program also focuses on teacher engagement and addresses issues of gender equality, gender relations, and gender rights, and is specifically designed to ensure equal attention is paid to skills development in girls and boys.

Beginning in 2018, Youth First was piloted in Kajiado and Tharaka Nithi counties, with nomadic (Maasai) and rural populations. Approximately 70 schoolteachers were trained and 1,000 students in 34 schools participated in the initial 2-year pilot program. Rigorous quantitative and qualitative assessments were conducted to evaluate and document program outcomes.

Following a pause due to the Covid-19 pandemic, preparations are currently underway for a major launch of Youth First among 100,000 students in 1,100 schools in 2023. Working in partnership with BasicNeeds Kenya and the Ministry of Education, Kenya, approximately 60 government Master Trainers, 1,150 school teachers, and government Curriculum Support Officers will be trained on program content and facilitation skills for delivery in the classroom.

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