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Improving social, economic and health outcomes for high-risk young people in remote communities: The adaptation and implementation of a transdisciplinary research approach

Masters by Research scholarship co-funded with the George Institute

Skye Bullen

An estimated 640,000 young Australians experience multiple, co-occurring risk factors that result in avoidable social, health and economic harms (such as premature mortality). These risk factors include substance use disorders, psychological distress, poor education, incarceration, unemployment and involvement in petty crime. These high-risk young people are not spread randomly across populations, but are clustered within vulnerable sub-populations, primarily in remote (compared to urban and regional) communities, and among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (compared to non-Indigenous) young people.

To date, responses to these harms in remote communities have typically been a combination of harm reduction strategies (e.g. implementation of low-aromatic fuel at petrol stations to curb the incidence of youth petrol sniffing, or increasing police presence in communities), and diversion activities such as sport. Although existing programs have achieved some positive outcomes, a current literature review by the CIs shows that there is a substantial disconnect between the implementation of programs and their evaluation using robust research methods. A total of 268 data-based studies (as opposed to opinion pieces or study protocols) were published in the international literature between 2009 and 2014, of which only 13 (5%) were evaluations of a program for young people experiencing multiple, co-occurring risk factors (as opposed to single risk factors, such as substance abuse only or suicide prevention only). Moreover, the methodological quality of seven of these 13 evaluations was rated as weak against standard criteria.

The lack of good quality evidence for effective intervention programs for young people with multiple and complex needs in remote communities is most likely a consequence of the difficulty of developing and routinely implementing a multi-component intervention that is highly acceptable and accessible to this high-risk group. A key innovation of the research proposed in this application is to develop, implement and evaluate a transdisciplinary model of research that is integrated into routine service delivery (see project collaborators and participating services sections). Its primary rationale is that achieving the routine uptake of evidence-based services for high-risk young people in remote communities will require collaborative effort between these high-risk young people, service providers who directly engage with them, and researchers skilled in real-world evaluation using both qualitative and quantitative methods. By engaging with a range of relevant experts, this study would be the first international research project to apply a transdisciplinary approach to knowledge co-creation for young people with multiple and complex needs in remote communities. Given these problems are complex and multifaceted the transdisciplinary, co-creation approach is a promising and innovative opportunity to identify cost-effective interventions for high-risk young people with multiple and complex needs.

Skye Bullen has spent the last 6 years working in medical research and social impact sectors. Skye graduated from ACAP with a Bachelor of Psychological Science, and prior to commencing her Masters by Research, she worked with the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project in Bourke and Ready Set Go in Port Stephens providing strategic planning and implementation, and program design, measurement, and evaluation.

Created: 22 June 2018 - Updated: 20 September 2018