The social and emotional wellbeing of Indigenous youth

Reviewing and extending the evidence and examining its implications for policy and practice
Youth Social isolation Aboriginal Australians government relations Australia

Background to the study

The project began with the recognition that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people experience life circumstances that seriously challenge their social and emotional wellbeing and limit their capacity to fulfill their life potential. This most likely contributes to and results from the visible disparities across most measures of health, education, employment and involvement in the justice system. In this same space, however, there are many reports of programs that help young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people build their strength and resilience by discovering their creativity, capability, leadership potential and achievement. Limited systematic attempts have been made to articulate the factors that are critical to achieving success, sustainability and growth of promotion, prevention, early intervention and treatment/support services and programs working to support the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

The Commonwealth Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaHCSIA) has recognised the need to become better informed about how policy can support good practice – what works – to promote the social and emotional wellbeing (SEWB) of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth.

Overall aims and methods

The aim of this project was to obtain a deeper and broader understanding of current knowledge in this area and translate this understanding into practical and useful information to enhance policy, resource allocation decisions and practice. The project involved four components with each informing the next, namely:

  • a systematic review of the existing published and grey literature covering research on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth SEWB up to 2010;
  • a review of current policies at national and jurisdictional levels and a review of programs and services specifically addressing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth SEWB;
  • completion of in-depth case studies of six programs with evidence of success and capacity to inform across a range of settings and groups. These studies utilized a structured, focussed comparison and appreciative inquiry approach to capture insightful explorations by those with hands on experience. The data included program-specific documents, interviews with program participants, developers, deliverers, managers and stakeholders and participant observations; and
  • cross-case analyses identifying themes and variations across the six case studies and a metasynthesis generating four sets of key distilled and cohesive messages to advance theory and assist policy and practice to foster program strength and impact.
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