A public health perspective of occupational therapy: Promoting adolescent health in school settings

  • L Wegner
  • LL Caldwell
  • EA Smith
Keywords: Adolescents, occupational therapy, public health.


Health professionals are constantly being challenged to redefine their roles as the context and nature of health care services changes. In this paper we explore the role of occupational therapy in promoting adolescent health in mainstream school settings. Two occupational therapists were involved in a school-based, risk reduction intervention called HealthWise that was implemented in four high schools in Cape Town, South Africa. As part of a process evaluation of the intervention, data collection included a documentary analysis, a focus group interview with core members of the HealthWise team, and semi-structured interviews with participants involved in the HealthWise intervention. The participants identified the four main roles of the occupational therapists as: supporting educators and learners, facilitating school-community partnerships, research, and administration. Participants responded positively to the role of the occupational therapists in supporting the HealthWise intervention through the facilitation of afterschool leisure programmes. Categories related to this included providing support in the schools, building positive relationships, strengthening school-community relations and linkages, and developing a leisure focus. The barriers, problems and challenges experienced included changing mindsets and expectations, and a lack of resources. The emerging role of occupational therapy within school settings is discussed from a public health perspective. This role strengthens existing initiatives aimed at promoting adolescent health, and contributes to knowledge regarding viable strategies to address the needs of youth in developing countries such as South Africa.

Keywords: Adolescents, occupational therapy, public health.


Journal Identifiers

print ISSN: 2411-6939