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THE THREE FACTORS FOR POSITIVE OUTCOMES WITH GROUP HOME YOUTH; EXPECTATIONS, TRUST AND SOCIAL CAPITAL

THE THREE FACTORS FOR POSITIVE OUTCOMES WITH GROUP HOME YOUTH; EXPECTATIONS, TRUST AND SOCIAL CAPITAL

POSITIVE YOUTH DEVELOPMENT FACTORS AND SOCIAL CAPITAL

Most research dealing with youth in Group Homes tends to emphasize that children and youth develop best with families. Perhaps no report states that so clearly as the Annie E. Casey report, “Every Kid Needs a Family.”1So it was with deep interest that I came upon a doctoral dissertation by Sundonia Jeanette Williams Wonnum, Ph.D. entitled Group Home Care: The Influence of Positive Youth Development Factors and Social Capital on Youth Outcomes.2

The Author states “Youth in group homes are often problematized and characterized as living on the margins due to their high rates of behavioral and emotional difficulties (Breland-Noble et al., 2005), housing and care instability, social and economic impediments, and academic challenges (Berzin, 2008). Such challenges often lead to deficit-focused research and pathology-based treatment, to further marginalize and increase the vulnerability of this already challenged group (Donovan, Jessor, & Costa, 1988).” 2, Pg 8

SKEWED RESEARCH

This viewpoint tends to skew the research of Group Home effectiveness according to Dr. Wannum. “Existing empirical data runs the risk of distorting perceptions of group homes as an effective intervention for some troubled youth by almost exclusively addressing pathology or behavioral deviations from social norms.” 2, Pg 9

Still, even with an inherent bias that “skews the research” on Group Homes, the best alternative remains a family for every child. The Author highlights the concerns; “The Interim Report found that the current system is failing to provide the safe, stable and loving care that children need, and is not supporting them to fulfil their potential as adults.”2, Pg 5

BEYOND DEFICIT-FOCUSED

Much of the current system is deficit-focused, which does not lead to the positive growth of the youth in Group Homes. “[S]uccessful development is viewed not as the absence of risk behavior but as the presence of positive attributes that enable youth to reach their full potential as productive and engaged adults” (Guerra & Bradshaw, p. 3). The problem is that many community, organizational, governmental efforts are targeted at extinguishing adolescents’ problematic behaviors more so than bolstering their desirable ones, thus underemphasizing the complex and critical processes of adolescent development.” 2, Pg 27

There are two factors that correlate with positive youth outcomes and both are a function of the staff.

“What Group Home factors correlate with positive outcomes among youth? 

  1. Group Home Staff’s positive view of youth’s competence impacted youth’s psychosocial problem severity.
  2. Youth who exhibited troublesome behaviour while in group care, if they experienced a trusting relationship with an adult staff member. they are more likely to exhibit prosocial behaviors after leaving group care.” 2, Pg 7

Trusting relationships are part of the Social Capital that young people need to function independently in life. A panel study of New Zealand’s child, youth and family system, highlights the critical importance of social capital in the community.

Young people who leave Group Home care with no idea how to expand their social capital or experience in doing so, are at an extreme deficit. New Zealand recognizes that it needs to build bridges from vulnerable youth to the community but also on-ramps from the non-professional community to the youth.

“Building Block: Engaging All New Zealanders 

  • Note that the love and care required by children and young people can only be provided through individuals and families, not through organisations or the State.
  • Note that all New Zealanders can have a role in providing love, care and support to vulnerable children, young people and their families.
  • Agree that a core responsibility of the future department will be to raise awareness and engage all New Zealanders in providing love, care and support to vulnerable children, young people and their families.
  • Agree that the future department will work with the Youth Advisory Panel and advocacy service to engage all New Zealanders in supporting vulnerable children.” 3, Pg 23

These are completely staff related and neither are deficit-focused. Does the staff believe in the youth’s capacity for change and are the staff given time to form trusting relationships with youth? Trust is a factor of consistent relationship. In essence, the two factors most relevant here are expectations and trust. No person can grow without expectations and children/adolescents need scaffolding so they can take risks while surrounded by the unconditional respect (love) of caring adults.

Group Home care is not the best option for young people. Children and adolescents do need a healthy family for optimum growth, but there are tangible, practical ways that Group Homes can help the children and teens in their care to mature to a healthy adulthood.

REFERENCES

1Every Kid Needs a Family; Giving Children in the Child Welfare System the Best Chance for Success, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, https://www.aecf.org/resources/every-kid-needs-a-family/

2GROUP HOME CARE: THE INFLUENCE OF POSITIVE YOUTH DEVELOPMENT FACTORS AND SOCIAL CAPITAL ON YOUTH OUTCOMES, Sundonia Jeanette Williams Wonnum, Ph.D., Virginia Commonwealth University, 2014, https://scholarscompass.vcu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=4567&context=etd

3Investing in New Zealand’s Children and their Families, 2015, Claire Falck, Head of Secretariat – Modernising Child, Youth and Family

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