Boingboing blogs from… the Resilience Forum!

Engaging young people to inform health improvement commissioning in East Sussex – Chris Cocking, Brighton Resilience Forum – Wednesday 9 December 2015

by David Glynne-Percy – PhD student, University of Brighton

On Wednesday 9th December I attended the Boingboing forum ‘Engaging young people to inform health improvement commissioning in East Sussex’ – a talk given by Dr Chris Cocking, a Social Psychologist Researcher from the University of Brighton. Chris, along with a group of other researchers (Sheriff et al, 2015), had been commissioned to discover the views of young people in East Sussex towards the notion of resilience and how they thought schools and youth services could improve their implementation of resilience building mechanisms for young people. Chris and colleagues collected the data in February 2015 from 100 young people (12, 13 and 14 year olds in Key Stage 3) in a number of secondary schools, Pupil Referral Units and various youth settings across the county. Chris spoke specifically about the Emotional wellbeing and resilience data collected from 23 participants.

From accepting the research brief in November 2014 to presenting the results in March 2015 is a remarkable achievement, as I know from my own burgeoning doctorate studies. The data was collected by the use of qualitative interviews with the aim of discovering, a) what young people did to be resilient, b) how young people engaged with existing services and, c) how these services could be improved to help young people become more resilient. It was important for Chris and his colleagues to engage with the participants in a co-production of knowledge, a desire to invite the informants to comment on what was important to them. This co-production of knowledge is increasingly de rigueur in social enquiry on health issues.

The results showed that, whilst young people engaged in coping with stress, there was not universal engagement with the term “resilience”. The group most accepting of the “r” word were victims of homophobic bullying. For this group, resilience was a protective word. It made them feel better. It could therefore be argued that this group’s understanding of the protection afforded by resilience had contributed to their self-esteem and self-efficacy in the face of bullying.

The young people from the Pupil Referral Units (PRUs) were less engaged with the concept of resilience. For this group the word was used in a patronising way by the school. They felt alienated from the term because they perceived it as being associated with teachers (and academics). Some young people said they had never heard of the term and yet were able to articulate resilient strategies they used in life when asked the question, “How do you do deal with things that stress you out?”

Young people from the PRU often talked about constraints to their personal resilience. This was especially marked by their comments re: the physical layout of their school, with words such as “prison,” “zoo” and “lock” often used. Several of these pupils talked of wanting to be able to run up down the corridor for ten mins to let off steam. Time out from class was appreciated especially if this was optional rather than enforced. Bullying was a dominant theme – the young people deemed schools ineffectual in dealing with bullying. There was the sentiment that schools would too often say they would deal with it but, in fact, they didn’t.

The research shed light on individual creative strategies to cope with stresses, both in and out of school, the involvement in sport, being one option, both formal and informal. Equally revealing was the potency of informal support structures. The value of identifying with your own peer group was seen to be very positive. Collective resilience can emerge from situations from shared experience of stressors, such as peer support over exams. In such circumstances some of the informants commented that they had become friends with people they had never imagined possible. There was the sentiment of “we are better together”.

It was interesting to note that, whilst many of the young participants were not familiar with the term “resilience” it was universally thought that schools should take the lead in promoting resilience building beyond just helping them cope. Indeed the young participants appreciated having someone coming in and asking them how they felt in confidence.

The implications/recommendations from this research are that educational institutions in East Sussex should look at wider societal structures that have an impact on individual resilience. It is vital to consider the broader social context before resorting to individual blame. It was also recommended that peer support schemes should be embedded into educational institutions, whilst also providing a time out space for students with the necessary mechanism to avoid misuse of such a facility.

The theoretical implications from the data support the idea that resilience is emergent through shared adversity. The sense of “we are in this together” can create collective resilience. It was interesting to note that Chris’ previous work had focussed on “how collective resilience can emerge during mass emergencies” and subsequently the creation of the Social Identity Model of Collective Resilience. Chris concluded that people need to question their adversity rather than to accept it. To “bounce forward” rather than “bounce back” should be the emancipating goal of resilience.

Many thanks to Dr Chris Cocking for this fascinating insight into young people’s perceptions of resilience in school. This was particularly relevant to me as my PhD hopes to shed light on how interest is triggered and sustained for disadvantaged children in extra-curricular activity.