On Friday last week I attended a lecture at the Ministry of Social Development called Vulnerable Youth: Moving Beyond Single Interventions, which outlined the New Zealand findings from a global study.

A group of 1477 young New Zealanders were split into two groups; those who were using multiple services (such as youth justice, special education and counselling) and those who were not, acting as a control group. Both groups were monitored for six years and all participants were aged between 12-17 years at the time the study commenced. The study followed them in their transitions throughout their secondary education, and then into tertiary study and employment.

As part of the study, the young people were asked to nominate an adult who knew them well and whom they trusted to be interviewed. Twenty-three per cent were unable to identify such a person, and from those that could a portion of them changed their nominated adult over the six years.

The study offered valuable insights into the experiences of individual young people, and the lecture included direct quotes from some of the participants on services that had made a positive difference for them.

“Staying out of trouble- somewhere to go off the street, looking forward to something everyday.”

“My social worker stood by me. I felt she was on my side.”

Eighty-two per cent of the multiple service users had a desire to achieve qualifications – the control group’s response was 89%, so the desire to succeed seemed to be very similar.

The study found vulnerable young people were accessing services dealing with individual risk (depression, substance abuse, high risk behaviour), yet less services were available for contextual risk (family, community and school issues). An increase in contextual risk was found to decrease young people’s resilience and make them less likely to cope with and manage challenges well.

The key message from the lecture was that services need to work consistently and collaboratively. Read more about the research at youthsay.co.nz