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Vulnerable students suffer worse health than mainstream

Faculty of Medical and Health Sciences The University of Auckland

Vulnerable students suffer worse health than their mainstream contemporaries Researchers at The University of Auckland have discovered that students attending Alternative Education (AE) have much higher rates of dangerous driving, smoking, drinking, unprotected sex and suicidal behaviours than mainstream students – yet they have the most difficulty accessing the services they require.

Alternative Education (AE) is the system of educational provision established for secondary school students aged 13-15 years who have been expelled or excluded from mainstream schools, many for truancy and behavioural issues.

The report, released later today [Thursday 4 November], presents findings from a health and wellbeing survey of 335 students attending AE facilities in the Auckland and Northland regions, carried out during term 4 of 2009.

It also presents findings from interviews with key stakeholders that highlight the health, social, and educational needs of young people in Alternative Education.

Dr Terryann Clark from the School of Nursing at the University of Auckland who lead the research project says there are some very concerning health disparities.

“These young people are more likely to come from poorer families, be exposed to violence and feel mainstream schools are unsupportive. Alternative schools simply do not have the same resources that mainstream schools have, yet their students are far more vulnerable,” says Dr Clark.

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Since the first suvey in 2000 there have been few improvements in the health and wellbeing of students attending Alternative Education; in particular young women’s health and wellbeing has not improved. However, the young men in the 2009 survey reported better mental health and higher levels of satisfaction with relationships with friends and family/whānau than their peers in 2000.

“There really needs to be a focus on getting high quality, consistent, confidential health services with well-trained youth health staff collaborating with Education to address these issues” says Dr Clark.

But it isn’t all bad news, despite these significant issues, most Alternative Education students’ say that Alternative Education is a supportive environment, that tutors care about them and students are more hopeful about their future educational and employment opportunities.

“We need to harness their enthusiasm for the future and support them to be healthy and achieve their goals for the future,” says Dr Clark.

“We hope that this report serves to highlight and advocate for young people in Alternative Education, who deserve quality education and health services with improved resources and coordination, to reduce their risks and increase their chances of growing up healthy and successful.”


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