Module 2: perspectives on working with young people: facilitator's guide

4.2-4.4 Social, community and family factors

Page last updated: 2004

Group activity
Social factors
Community factors
Community resources
Family factors
Function or dysfunction?

Group activity

Divide the group into three smaller groups and assign them one of the following topics:
  • Social factors
  • Community factors
  • Family factors
Each group is to discuss the following question/s for their topic and record the main points on butcher's paper.
  • Social factors:
    • What are some of the current social issues impacting on young people?
    • What are the social issues young people in your community face?

  • Community factors:
    • What kinds of community issues do young people face in your area?
    • Consider the following:
      • What kinds of community do young people in your area belong to?
      • What types of services/resources are available to young people and their families in your area?
      • Do these resources adequately address the needs of the young people in your area? What additional services/resources are needed?

  • Family factors:
    • What kinds of systems influence families and in what ways?
Facilitator direction:
  • Each small group provides feedback to the group as a whole.
  • Follow with mini lecture.
  • Societal factors include unemployment, health issues, discrimination, suicide, mental health issues, and homelessness.
  • For the purpose of this module the following factors will be the focus of this discussion.
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Social factors

Economic climate and employment conditions

Work is an important way for young people to achieve a number of important developmental tasks including financial and emotional independence. However changes in the economic climate and in the structure of the workplace have seriously impacted on this area of opportunity for young people.

Youth unemployment is a significant issue of concern. Over the past 10-20 years a large number of young people have been completing school to year 12. At the same time there have been significant structural changes in the workplace which have led to a reduction in the number of full-time employment opportunities available for school leavers. For Indigenous school leavers the problems are even greater.

This rise in youth unemployment has meant that a significant number of young people have had to struggle to achieve financial independence. In many instances they have been forced to remain at home with their parents, making it much more difficult to achieve psychological independence.

Of particular concern is the reduction in unskilled and semi-skilled work. Young people who do not have the intellectual capacity or interest in pursuing high school, tertiary level or university education options are finding that their careers of choice have been replaced by computers or machinery (e.g. couriers, factory workers, clerical/administrative workers). Promoting young people's development is extremely difficult when labour market conditions are so poor.

Discrimination and prejudice

Discrimination and prejudice based on race, gender, ethnicity, social class and /or sexual orientation can have a powerful impact on a young person's development. The presence of such prejudice and discrimination in Australian society is evident in the community as well as in historical government policies on integration.

Community factors

Communities directly and indirectly teach people to behave in certain ways (modelling). Communities are where people learn to connect with each other and feel a sense of belonging.

Community might mean the suburb or town where you live, the local housing estate, your local neighbourhood, or your cultural group.

Differences in ethnicity; Indigenous needs of community.

Community resources

High-quality, easily accessible services that provide support not only to young people but also to their families are important in minimising the impact of social and cultural risk factors such as unemployment or single parent families.

Just as important as access to 'structured' community resources are the intangible community supports which allow families and their children to feel a connection and a sense of belonging within the community.

Often rural and remote communities lack adequate organisations/services/resources to support parents and young people. As a consequence the informal linkages and support networks become even more important in providing a strong feeling of belonging and support for both parents and young people.

Family factors

Quality of parent-child relationships

A major achievement for a young person is to become emotionally, psychologically and financially independent of their parents. This can be helped or hindered by the way in which the parents respond to their child during this time of change.

Young people require some freedom of choice and independence but also rely on parents for emotional support and guidance in decision-making.

Research evidence has indicated that the healthier the emotional connection between parents and their children, the less likely the young person will experience problematic behaviours (e.g. crime and drug use) (Sampson & Laub, 1994, cited in CSR Inc, 1997) or mental health problems (Papini et al. 1991, cited in CSR Inc., 1997).
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Parenting styles and practice

Parenting style and practice also has an important impact on a young person's development. Research evidence indicates that when parents show an interest in their children through monitoring their behaviour and disciplining them in a consistent and caring way, they are more likely to develop as individuals in a healthy manner (Barnes et al, 1986; Clark, 1991; cited in CSR, Inc., 1997). Monitoring and discipline by parents sends a strong message of care and concern and needs to be balanced with positive reinforcement when appropriate.

Similarly parenting style and practice has an important impact on a young person's development. Research evidence indicates that parents who have in the main shown an interest in their children through monitoring their behaviour and disciplining from a base of consistency and caring are more likely to have young people who individuate in a healthy manner (Barnes et al. 1986; Clark, 1991; cited in CSR, Inc., 1997). Monitoring and discipline from parents sends a strong message of care and concern and needs to be balanced with positive reinforcement when appropriate.

Family structure

Major changes that have occurred in society have had a direct impact on parents' role in helping young people move through adolescence to adulthood. For example, in the last few decades there has been an increasing incidence of family breakdown due to separation or divorce resulting in a greater number of single-parent families. This has had a major impact on the family structure.

Evidence indicates that how well the family functions rather than the structure of the family is the more important influencing factor in a young person's development.

The following factors add stress on families and increase the risk for tensions between young people and their parents:
    • Reductions in income support forcing young people to stay at home longer.
    • Breakdown in community
    • Economic system which can seriously disadvantage many people e.g. casualisation of the workforce
    • Rising unemployment
    • A society which creates expectations for a standard of living which is unachievable for many young people and families.

Function or dysfunction?

Task - brainstorming/group activity

Question - What do you consider to be functional or dysfunctional within a family situation? Give your own definition of the terms.

Question - Think about some of the issues that you have raised. What kinds of systems might influence families and in what way?

Facilitator direction: Certain family dysfunction may affect a young person's development. Dysfunction may be a result of:
  • mental health difficulties of parents (depression, drug use, mental or intellectual health illnesses)
  • neglect and/or abuse from parents or siblings which may be physical, emotional or sexual
  • family dysfunction may increase risk-taking behaviours in young people.

Overhead transparency

  • Mental health difficulties of parents
  • Neglect and/or abuse
  • Family dysfunction.