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Five-year study will support troubled youth

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Five-year study will support troubled youth

The most comprehensive ever study on troubled young New Zealanders is to be led by Massey University, with a focus on support and interventions for struggling youth. The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology today announced the latest funding in the Building an Inclusive Society portfolio, with the Massey Pathways to Resilience project receiving $3.75 million of the total $8.1 million.

Principal investigator Dr Jackie Sanders says the Resilience project will run for five years, following 480 troubled young people – those known to Government agencies including Child, Youth and Family - to find what works to overcome adversity and turn their lives around.

“It’s really trying to understand from young people what makes the most difference to them – what distinguishes young people who can overcome adversity from those who don’t. This will provide us with information on the kinds of things we can do … the sorts of things that are most likely to make a difference for young people.”

Dr Sanders says the team, which includes collaborators from Victoria and Otago universities and the Donald Beasley Institute, will interview more than 1600 people from statutory agencies including education, welfare and justice, and non-Government organisations to identify the protective factors that support a positive outcome.

“Practitioners know in their gut,” Dr Sanders says, “but this study is designed to tap into the wisdom that’s out there and verify it with case records of young people. To be able to say ‘if we can do this and do it properly these are the outcomes we can expect’ is a huge step forward. Outcomes can and do change for young people but it’s difficult to know what made the change.”

The study is part of the international resilience project, flowing from a lead study in Canada led by Dr Michael Ungar. The aim is to identify the combination of services and interventions to support better outcomes for troubled youth.

Dr Sanders says that intervening reduces both cost and the damage troubled young people inflict upon themselves. “Not intervening effectively means that a number of these young people will graduate into the adult criminal justice system. We also hear from professionals in services that it appears that children and young people are starting to show signs of distress at younger ages and that their behaviours are starting to become more serious sooner.

“While many of these youth commit only one offence or come to the notice of authorities on relatively few occasions, a small group come to attention repeatedly. For this group the average number of convictions is 51 and the costs of intervening are high; on average they cost $3.1 million and the top 10 per cent cost $6 million each.”

Dr Sanders says that a comparison group of 480 young people who are doing okay will also be followed.

“One of the things we are interested in is what are the differences, where is the edge that young people fall over where there situation becomes high-risk? Where is that tipping point?”

Dr Ungar visited Dr Sanders and Professor Robyn Munford at the University’s School of Social Work and Social Policy last year to identify opportunities for the resilience project. He is returning to New Zealand later this year, to assist establishment of the project.


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