There should be more help out here! A qualitative study of the needs of Aboriginal adolescents in rural Australia

Nicole Mohajer, Dawn Bessarab, Jaya Earnest
Rural and Remote Health 2009, 9 (2): 1137

INTRODUCTION: Aboriginal adolescents living in or near rural towns have different social and cultural needs than Aboriginal adolescents living in large cities or remote areas. Identification of health needs by the community is an established principle of health promotion for improving community health. The objective of this study was to identify the views of rural Aboriginal adolescents regarding health promotion topics, the most important health problems they faced, their support networks and their beliefs about who should help them meet their health needs.

METHODS: Ninety-nine adolescents aged between 12 and 18 years were involved in in-depth interviews or focus group discussions using a tested and trialled questionnaire. Data collection took place at three sites in rural Australia from 2006 to 2008: two Aboriginal-controlled communities and one rural town. All locations were de-identified at the request of participants because confidentiality and anonymity were concerns of the adolescents, who felt that identifying their own community would result in stereotyping. After preliminary interviews with parents, teachers, youth and health workers, snowball sampling was used to identify 'vulnerable' adolescents with low school attendance. The mean age of respondents was 13 years. There were 40 male participants and 59 female participants, representing 6 language groups. Informed consent was obtained from both participants and their guardians. Data were analysed using thematic matrices and cross-checked in subsequent interactions with participants.

RESULTS: Alcohol, drugs and violence were identified as the biggest problems facing Aboriginal adolescents in rural areas and the topic they would most like to know about. The youth from a smaller Aboriginal community near a town with a population of 1500 stated that boredom was an equally important problem. Racism and bullying were noted as reasons for poor school attendance. Family members were the most important supports, and the people they felt would help solve their health problems. They strongly identified with sports and were proud to be Aboriginal although there were many adolescents who had no future plans or ambitions. Most participants wanted a 'safe and fun' place to go to in the evenings.

CONCLUSIONS: The importance of engaging the community and being sensitive to social and cultural contexts in research and programming was confirmed. Policy-makers, health providers and agencies working with youth need to focus on inclusion of families in youth health promotion and drug and alcohol prevention for Aboriginal adolescents in rural areas. Mentorship and peer-support programs are more effective than health professionals and agencies in working with youth. The expertise of those traditionally working with youth could be channelled into coordinating a mentorship program. Personal wellbeing and safety is an important issue and multipurpose youth centres may provide a secure place for adolescents to learn, interact and develop a vision for their futures.

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