Practitioners who work with high-risk adolescents (HRA) often wonder who such adolescents turn to for help in times of crisis. A recent Israeli study looked at the differing reasons HRAs seek help from youth workers versus others, e.g. parents, peers and teachers.
Youth workers are defined as workers in non-mainstream educational settings, which specialise in dealing with adolescents at risk. These settings include community work, youth organisations, youth centres, community centres and residential schools.
This study summarises the research regarding which demographic accepts or actively seeks out help; i.e. HRA who are female, typically older, hold religious convictions and come from higher socio-economic backgrounds are more likely to seek help from others. Moreover, HRAs are more likely to seek help from staff who demonstrate honesty, warmth, allow choice, are attentive and give adolescents responsibility for their own plans. HRA are less likely to seek help than non-HRA adolescents.
The study asked 351 HRA aged between 14 and 18 years to complete three questionnaires: Help Seeking Questionnaire, Attachment Style Questionnaire and a Self-Exposure Questionnaire. The response rate was 78%. Whilst the authors claim that the respondents were high risk adolescents, 71% denied any drug use, 64% had no police record and only 28% came from ‘poor’ backgrounds.
- HRAs are as willing to seek help from youth workers as they are from parents, but to a lesser degree than their willingness to seek help from friends and considerably more than their willingness to seek help from teachers.
- The prominent position of youth workers as sources of help indicates that the relationship between adolescent and youth worker is a meaningful non-formal therapeutic relationship.
- The low placement of teachers as a source of help reflects the alienation adolescents at risk feel towards school.
- HRAs from low socio-economic groups are more likely to seek help from youth workers than those from higher socio economic groups. It is possible that adolescents from more established families make use of formal sources.
- For HRAs, a could act as a complementary source of help to the non-formal sources available, and act as a semi-formal alternative at times when they would find it difficult to turn to the non-formal sources, especially when these adolescents encounter problems that they perceive as serious.
- HRAs with more serious problems are more likely to turn to youth workers for help when compared to HRAs with less serious problems. It is possible HRAs view the youth worker as a special address for problems they consider very serious, and they turn to parents, and especially to friends, for less serious ones.
Take outs for practitioners
- The study provides a concise summary of the of rationale for employing youth workers compared to other professionals, e.g. teachers, social workers and psychologists, when delivering programs for high risk adolescents.
Kaim, Z. and S. Romi (2015). “Adolescents at risk and their willingness to seek help from youth care workers.” Children and Youth Services Review 53(0): 17-23.