About the Youth-Elder Partnership (YEP) program
The Youth-Elder Partnership (YEP) program is based on collective impact (Turner, et al, 2012), developmental evaluation (Patton, 2011), and outcome mapping (Earl, Carden, & Smutylo, 2001). It aims to enhance community youth-adult partnership behaviours to improve the number, quality and sustainability of Aboriginal teaching-inspired resiliency-building opportunities available to youth, Aboriginal youth-in care and other youth-in care in the Fraser Health region. This approach acknowledges replicated studies showing resilience is a social process (Obradovic, Burt, & Masten, 2006; Sameroff & Rosenblum, 2006; Stajduhar, Funk, Shaw, Bottorff, & Johnson, 2009; Stone, Becker, Huber, & Catalano, 2012), and is based on three core factors that support youth into thriving by mid-life (Brown, Jean-Marie & Beck, 2010):
- opportunities to participate and contribute
- caring and connected relationships
- developing high self-expectations
These factors align with Indigenous teachings around the four quadrants of the medicine wheel: generosity, belonging, mastery, and independence (Brendtro, Brokenleg, & Van Bockern, 2002).
The project supports a Youth and Elder Community Facilitator whose role it is to support communities to start, enhance and expand the ways that they teach and learn about and engage in traditional ways between elders and youth.
The community challenge that YEP seeks to address
In British Columbia, the Aboriginal child population makes up 8% of the total child population, yet more than 55% of children living out of their parental home are Aboriginal. One in five Aboriginal children will be involved with child welfare during childhood.
There is a growing body of evidence, drawn from both child welfare research and child protection practice, that the origins and impacts of child abuse are different than those of child neglect. Reports have found that neglect is the predominant reason for Aboriginal children coming into care. The association between poverty and child neglect is particularly strong.
A recent Conference Board of Canada report on outcomes for Aboriginal youth found that former foster children earn about $326,000 less income over their lifespan compared to the average Canadian and are disproportionately affected by poorly treated mental health issues/ mental illnesses.
This constellation of statistics suggests that interventions that improve conditions for Aboriginal youth in care today will also reduce the number of Aboriginal youth in care in the future.
Peer-reviewed studies have concluded that successful programs include a holistic conception of resiliency that recognizes the intersecting roles of culture, spirituality, and community in supporting the health of Aboriginal youth at risk.
The main research and local knowledge that informs YEP
This project is based on the evidence of conditions, gaps, needs and approaches in local, regional, and national documents. These include: The Aboriginal Capacity Cafe: Listening to Aboriginal Youth Voice (2012), Aboriginal Children in Care: Report to Canada’s Premiers (2015), Fraser Region Aboriginal Youth Suicide Prevention Collaborative’s Suicide Prevention, Intervention and Postvention Initiative (2012), Aboriginal Health Team of Fraser Health’s A Planning Guide: Steps to Adapt Community Response to Suicide (2013), Reclaiming Youth at Risk (2002), Tripartite First Nations Health Plan’s A Path Forward: A Provincial Approach to Facilitate Regional and Local Planning and Action (2013), and Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action (2015). Some of these documents were researched and developed in participation with the applying partners.
Further, the approach is informed by collective impact (Turner, et al, 2012), developmental evaluation (Patton, 2011), and outcome mapping (Earl, Carden, & Smutylo, 2001) and, most of all, by the work that VYPER has been doing since 2014 in the Fraser Health Region . The evidence, core principles, logic model, and evaluation approach on which VYPER has been carried out has been described in Making Resilience Happen through Youth-Adult Partnership (2016): www.vyper.ca/resiliencereport.pdf. The partners who supported the application for funding of YEP have all endorsed VYPER’s approach as culturally responsive and appropriate.
Some questions and learnings that we hope to explore in our project are:
To what extent can we bring the findings and recommendations of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada into action-oriented awareness, and how might we evaluate these efforts?
To what extent can we affect the trajectory of youth-related initiatives to have a more-robust and consistent health equity lens engaging ALL youth in health equity-based action?
We are especially interested in operationalizing and evaluating action based on two research findings:
- For young people of non-dominant cultures, having opportunities that support an ability to move between their primary culture and the dominant culture without assimilating correlates to both school success (Delpit, 1995; Eccles & Gootman, 2002; Gibson, 1997a, b; Luthar & McMahon, 1996; Mehan et al., 1994) and reduced substance use (Oetting, 1993).
- Young people who have experienced significant trauma can help build a culture of empathy and altruism because “The most striking qualities shared by these child survivors … [is] their compassion for others in need” (Dalianis, 1994, p. 11). These findings turn the “at risk” paradigm on its head-indicating that “mainstream” young people who don’t have the opportunity to be influenced by their “at risk” counterparts may, as a result, be at higher risk of joining the “majority of youth who have lost … the values of caring and compassion” (Search Institute, 1997, p. 48), and compassion’s related physiological and psychological health benefits (Rein et al., 1995).
How YEP will use this knowledge to address the challenge
Over its two-year currently funded period (2016-2017) our project is committed to working toward Aboriginal youth living in or leaving care, on or off reserve, having the support, opportunities, and cultural connections to community that they need to thrive as adults. The project will use and adapt VYPER-developed technologies such as community agreements, environmental scans, area and regional meetings, “Real Talk” events, newsletters, community reports, and MyVYPER (youth and elders sharing the impact of working in partnership). Youth vision, voice, and decision -making in the project will transform existing policies and services for Aboriginal youth and the larger community in the Fraser Health region.
The Youth & Elder Community Facilitator is in a unique position whose mandate is to be embedded in the youth-related community infrastructure to consistently raise the question, “What are young people capable of doing or being in this environment?” and to develop collaborative responses based on the answers to that question. Our project will contribute to and expand existing resilience research and education by providing a model that builds resiliency in a culturally specific, inter-generational context. It will create opportunities for youth and elders to learn from each other, share visions of safety and grounding, and to find support from new extended family members. Evaluations of the project will enhance and improve knowledge and services for Aboriginal communities and youth-in-care.
The partners who came together to submit the YEP proposal hope that the project, by bringing a lens specific to Aboriginal cultural practices to the work that VYPER recently completed, may go a long way toward supporting the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s call on the federal government to “establish multi-year funding for community-based youth organizations to deliver programs on reconciliation, and establish a national network to share information and best practices.” While a lofty goal, we challenge ourselves to think this big.