What is the role of professional helping relationships in altering the trajectories of young people facing severe and multiple disadvantage?

Sandu, Rebeca Denisa 

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This doctoral thesis is about the possibility that relationships between young people facing severe and multiple disadvantage and professional helpers— employed by not-for-profit organisations— can alter the life trajectories of the young people. Specifically, the research explored five sub-questions relating to the characteristics of the youth population, the nature of positive worker-young person relationships, the mechanism by which relationship alter young people’s trajectories, the qualities of workers who support young people in this context, and the impact of such relationships on the young people’s outcomes. Two data sets were used to address these questions. The first four questions were explored through qualitative research involving 30 young people and 35 workers employed by not-for-profit organisations (five in the U.S. and 11 in the U.K.) selected on the basis of their ability to relate to young people in difficult circumstances. Participants were interviewed about their relationships and the findings were analysed using thematic analyses. The fifth question was explored through secondary analysis of data from a Canadian randomised controlled trial of At Home/Chez Soi, a programme commonly known as Housing First, aimed at people facing severe and multiple disadvantage. In this sub-study, a mixed method design was employed.
The findings shed light on the group characteristics that are fundamental to understanding their life trajectories, particularly highlighting the role of emotions (e.g., shame and feelings of unworthiness) in disconnecting young people from sources of support. This study revealed the family-like nature of such relationships and the workers’ use of personal rather than professional ethics to allow for the formation of such deep bonds. The research described a mechanism of change by which the helper-helped relationships exerted their influence via alterations of the young people’s emotions, cognition, and agency. The qualities of workers able to relate to young people in this context were found to map onto that mechanism. Evidence and possible reasons for the differential impact of relationships on the trajectories of people facing severe and multiple were described in the fifth paper. These findings have implications for developing a public policy response to young people facing severe and multiple disadvantage.

Lamb, Michael E
Relationships, Severe and multiple disadvantage, Young people, Trajectories, Mechanism of change, Relational workers
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge