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The Study In Action
The Transitions Study started interviews for this research. This involved three structured interviews and three qualitative interviews with each young person, and interviews with a person they considered most knowledgeable about them (PMK).
Several organisations took on the challenge of becoming involved in this exciting youth research programme and they are now keen to share their experiences as part of recognising the huge contribution youth made to the study and also to encourage other organisations that work with youth to consider becoming involved in research in the future.
The organisations who have participated in these reflections are:
Yvonne has been involved in finding and interviewing people for the study since 2011. Right from the time she was first interviewed for the role to now, she says “the whole thing has been amazing. I can’t believe I’m doing it. This is just perfect.” One of the things she loved was that the interviews turned out to be “conversations.” She hadn’t initially believed that was possible, but after doing a few, she could see the process was “so fixed on the young people” that they felt “it really was their voice”, and I realised “it is a conversation.” “The majority of them really used that opportunity to really talk about what had happened in their lives.”
One of the reasons Yvonne felt the young people could be so open was that the study did not place any expectations on the young people. She felt they could “talk about [things] without feeling that at the end someone was going to suggest something.”
A pressing concern for many of the young people was finding meaningful work. Many were aged 17 at the time and had not had positive experiences at school. Yvonne felt they definitely had “a lot of regret [about school]. Mainly that they didn’t go. That they didn’t see how important it was...or that they were caught up with something.” As she says you can “never underestimate how intense” their lives are. ..”They are managing a lot. I know a great deal of strength can come from that....but it also makes them more vulnerable.”
The parents she interviewed were “upset and so worried” for their children. She found there was a definite match between the risks they talked about and those their child had identified. She also noticed that, despite any problems that existed between them, the young people were “trying really hard to have good relationships with their parents.”
What really seemed to make the difference for young people in her opinion was “feeling there was an adult who saw that they had worth.” Many of the them talked about moments when they had felt valued and it meant a lot to them, even if they had not always taken up the support at the time. Sometimes “it’s not the right time” Yvonne says. “People have to be ready.” When she first started social work she always felt a need to “do something.” But now she feels the relationship can also be the “doing”, and it’s important to avoid “being another person who came in and made them do this or that.” “They’re each individuals. It’s about connection and having awareness of each specific person and entering into that without a judgement. And then trying to be that – that positive adult even if it is for two weeks, but to do that.”
Katie has been involved in reviewing the case files of the young people in the study who used multiple services. She is keen to identify the “good stuff” – the practices that helped the young people succeed.
She admits “it’s really complicated.” “Some of the files describe circumstances that it would be impossible for young people to thrive under” and problems with violence, alcohol and drug abuse and mental health concerns are well documented. “No family is the same and so there is no single ‘best way’ to work with families – some social workers are very creative in their responses”.
Katie describes examples of social workers making concerted efforts to find “time to spend with the kids” and others who have done “hours of backbreaking work in locating and involving extended whanau.”
She notes the case files don’t always document all of the work social workers do. Katie has also seen files where “the schools are really, really committed to the kids” and has noticed that for some of the young people school is the most “constant thing” that young person has. “The file reviews suggest that many of the young people in the study really want to engage in education but struggle to stay in mainstream classes because of a range of ‘distractions’ going on in their lives outside of school. Seeing schools demonstrating commitment to these young people is really heartening.“
Katie says looking at the file reviews has given her renewed respect for social workers who are working with complex families, and the lengths they go to. “Social workers get a bad rap, but when you see the number of phone calls they make each day, the amount of contact they have with the family and other agencies, the way they have to respond to things not going to plan and the hours they must be putting in because this is not their only case - that commands respect”.
Katie has also been inspired by the young people who are so “energetic and resourceful” and “seem to have extraordinary capacity to make the best of challenging circumstances.” “Sometimes their behaviour might look naughty but scratch the surface and you discover there’s more to it”. Often she thinks “You’ve really got potential….if you had the right resources, what could you do?” Katie feels privileged that the young people have allowed her to hear their stories, and is excited about the prospect that social work practice will learn from what these young people tell us. Katie is honoured to be part of the research team.
For Jak it’s been “a privilege” to interview the young people. “I’ve always had that [desire] to help young people” and “it’s been awesome” she says. She believes “listening is the key. Too many people make judgements without listening. You have to try and remember that they have their own stories.”
Some of the young people had difficulty reading and writing. Jak felt very sad about this “because it’s one of the fundamentals and it limits their possibilities as well”.
She feels that the jump to College was also a point when things started to go wrong for many of them. “Primary school is a comforting environment, but when you go to College they try and treat you like an adult, but you’re not an adult. You still need that nurturing environment especially if you are not getting it at home.”
Many of them wished they had stayed at school and didn’t know how to continue their education now.
When asked a question about the worst thing that could happen to them, a lot of them had real concerns about “going to jail, being homeless and not getting a job”. “Being homeless was a biggie” Jak says. [Their concerns] were very real.” Often she felt a lot of responsibility ”had been placed on their shoulders and they had not been allowed to just be a child.”
Some of them seemed to be able to overcome barriers with what seemed to her to be a sense of “natural resilience”, something she believes is not learnt but rather what “makes you as a person.” But if the young people got heavily involved in drugs and alcohol “that brought additional problems” she says.
Yet what really surprised her was how optimistic they were about their futures. “Some of them didn’t have anything but they were excited about what the future might hold. They weren’t scared about it. They were looking forward to it.”
Resilience Research Centre NZ - Youth Research Site 2013