Our health system is failing young people. It sounds dire, but it’s true. Yet, in the face of a catastrophic year – the worst bushfires in Australia’s history, floods, a global pandemic and mass unemployment – the WH&Y Commissioners continued to ensure young people’s voices informed the policies and practices impacting their heath.

The United Nations, World Health Organization, The Lancet Commission on Adolescent Health, and the Australian Government’s National Action Plan for Child and Youth Health, all call for youth participation in research and translation for service and system transformation.

The WH&Y Commission was created because we need to make health care better for young people. If we have any hope of understanding why the current system isn’t working for young people, why it’s not providing them with the help they need - and the support to remain physically and mentally healthy - we need to prioritise working with young people on research and translation. That’s where the WH&Y Commissioners come in.

In 2020, 20 young people from the Greater Western Sydney region became the inaugural WH&Y Commissioners. They come from a diverse range of backgrounds and have varied interests. They are all passionate about health and advocacy, and they each contribute to research and translation at national, state, and local levels. They are committed to creating a new Culture of Collaboration in adolescent health.

As the field of adolescent health research continues to grow, it’s important that young people are involved from the very start, helping to set research agendas, co-creating projects, and contributing in an ethical and meaningful way.

In an extremely disrupted and difficult year, the Commissioners worked with WH&Y Chief Investigators, their peers, networks, policy makers and peak bodies to advance the role of young people in research and translation. The demand for their input has been immediate and is increasing. Some of their most notable contributions include:

  • Advising the NSW Ministry of Health Youth Advisory Group on its response to the COVID19 pandemic
  • Informing youth health policy agendas, such as the 2020 Consumers Health Forum of Australia’s Youth Forum, where challenges to improving youth pathways into health services in Australia were discussed and a series of recommendations was formed
  • Authoring pieces on Diverse Sexuality and Gender, Climate Change, and Discrimination for the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2021 Youth Health Report
  • Informing research projects and ethics at the design stage, including ‘Virtual Reality in Emergency Rooms’ project and ‘The Opportunities and Challenges of Emerging Technologies in Relation to Adolescent Healthcare
  • Advocating on key issues that impact youth health in the media, by writing blogs and opinion pieces for the WH&Y website and ‘The Conversation’, including articles on how young people are responding to Covid-19
  • Collaborating on WH&Y development opportunities including the Sydney Children’s Hospitals Foundation Greenlight Pilot Project, to build a world-first partnership with young people and establish a culture of collaboration
  • Co-authoring national and international policy submissions, including on the UNCRC draft General Comment on Children’s Rights in the Digital Environment, the National Youth Policy Framework and the NHMRC Public Consultations on the National Statement on Ethical Conduct in Human Research.

It has been a busy year for the commissioners! So yes, our health system and services are failing young people, but we can change that by working in partnership with young people, seeking their input and creating space for them to lead the way. In the midst of a pandemic, and in the rush to digital health, it is more important than ever to revolutionise health services so they not only meet the immediate needs of young people, but their future needs as well.

Young people face rising levels of unemployment and underemployment, housing stress and intensifying climate change – all of which impacts their physical and mental health, none of which will be solved in the near future. Our health system needs to address these challenges and adapt to provide a greater level of support.

The WH&Y Commissioners have shown incredible insight and commitment in a year when they have been challenged more than most. The Commissioners have achieved great things in the face of these challenges, and we invite everyone working in the health and wellbeing space to join the WH&Y Commissioners in a movement to make Australia internationally known for a co-created health system that values and cares for its young people better than any other in the world.