Academic journal article Rural Society

Youth Programmes in Remote Indigenous Communities: Context Matters

Academic journal article Rural Society

Youth Programmes in Remote Indigenous Communities: Context Matters

Article excerpt

Introduction, literature review and theory

A diversity of programmes oriented to young people in Australia and elsewhere seek to develop the capacities of young people and their connection to the communities in which they live (Weirenga & Wyn, 2011). Collectively referred to here as "youth development programmes", some are intended to ameliorate a particular issue, or "deficit", whilst others, such as sporting, recreation and community-based initiatives, are hosted in non-health and human services community organizations. Since 2000, there have been various processes and studies designed to articulate a youth development framework in an Australian context (Ausyouth, 2001; Seymour, 2012; Weirenga & Wyn, 2011), with some focusing specifically on youth development for young Indigenous Australians (Averis, 2003). Despite some evidence of successful programme outcomes internationally, little consideration has been given to their application in remote Indigenous communities (Lopes, Flouris, & Lindeman, 2013). Further, Larson, Walker, Rusk and Diaz (2015) call for research internationally on the expertise of youth development practitioners, highlighting the necessity of developing theoretical frameworks that support their work and learning.

Whilst some research locates youth development initiatives as largely located within mainstream and voluntary organizations, we take a broader personcentred strengths-oriented approach:

Youth development builds the personal strengths that create positive attributes in young people. It is development in the sense of allowing for the growth of identity and sense of self in relation to the world. Youth development promotes personal development competencies and talents through age and culturally appropriate strategies. It builds young people's sense of belonging and connection in communities and, by supporting young people's contribution to their communities, it enhances cross-generational and cross-cultural communication. (Weirenga & Wyn, 2011,p.8)

Although explicit focus of change in youth development is with respect to young people themselves, there is recognition in some youth literature of the need to see such development and change within broader community contexts (White, 1997). A broad approach to youth development is reciprocal, involving change in how communities and institutions view, include and relate to young people. Conceptualizing youth as in a dynamic and reciprocal relationship with their communities and society is also necessary to avoid over-individualizing the challenges they face. Historically, youth development programmes in Central Australia have been conducted to address volatile substance misuse (VSM), including petrol sniffing, and continue to be vital responses to petrol sniffing outbreaks in the region (Lopes et al., 2013). Over time, the focus of youth development programmes has expanded beyond VSM to address broader health and social outcomes of young Aboriginals.

There are indications youth programmes have a positive impact on health, social and emotional wellbeing (Zubrick et al., 2005), crime prevention (Cameron & MacDougall, 2000; Tatz, 1994), juvenile criminal re-offences (Clough, Lee, & Conigrave, 2008), self-harm and other risky behaviours (Carinduff, 2001). Anecdotal feedback also suggests activities are promoting child and maternal health, child nutrition and suicide prevention. Organized youth sport and recreation activities have also positively influenced educational outcomes, such as enhancing school attendance and performance, retaining young people in the educational system and improving employment opportunities (Cummingham & Beneforti, 2005; Department of Education Employment and Workplace Relations, 2010). Some youth programmes have been designed to promote cultural renewal, foster self-esteem, enhance confidences and develop teamwork, social interaction and skills (Warlpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation, 2008). …

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