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In Search of New Ideas
Child & Youth Services (2012)
  • Ben Anderson-Nathe, Portland State University
  • Kiaras Gharabaghi, Ryerson University
In spite of the proliferation of research and writing about children and youth over the course of the past few decades, precious little has changed for the young people about whom we are most concerned. On the one hand, advances in psychology, neuroscience, and even more practice-oriented professions such as child and youth care practice, social work, and other human services, have indeed given us confidence that we can make a difference in the lives of even the most marginalized and vulnerable young people. Our current focus on evidence-based practice, and its first cousin, program evaluation, has ensured that we invest our time and effort mostly where we know seemingly desirable outcomes are likely. In fact, many academic careers are furthered by the need to know whether the things we do, the interventions we propose and act on, and the programs and services we design produce the outcomes we are seeking from and in the young people whom these programs serve. It is not our intention to be critical of the excellent work that has been done in this respect.

At the same time, however, we are conscious that all the evidence we have mounted, and all of the program evaluations we have undertaken, have had little or no positive impact at all on the young people who are chronically left out. In fact, in many cases the focus on evidence-based practice at the expense of other ways of being with youth—relational engagement, sport and recreation, authentic caring, and the like—has compounded the alienation and marginalization of many children and young people already on the fringes of our service networks. We think one reason for this unfortunate reality is that our efforts are driven by fairly dated and often misplaced ideas about what constitutes desirable outcomes to begin with. So long as we continue to seek social, moral, and political conformity from young people, effectively seeking to recreate ourselves and our social structures with no critical examination, there will be a substantial group amongst these young people who get lost or who won’t conform to the evidence. We then conveniently construct these young people as the exceptions, or as excessively damaged, or as somehow not meeting the criteria for our research studies and program evaluations in the first place. They, rather than our assumptions and predetermined desired outcomes, remain the problem.

Perhaps it is a side effect of being Editors of an international journal. Day in and day out we are given the task of reading submissions that provide excellent analyses of this program or that, one kind of intervention or another. And yet we are challenged to see the young people we have met over the years reflected in many of these studies. Specifically, we are talking about the young people who fail to conform, who are noncompliant on a good day and outright hostile on most other days. Those whose political and moral agendas (whether they are able to articulate these or not) don’t quite correspond to any of the system agendas, and whose sexual, cultural, and personal identities push us to think (and act) differently, beyond our comfort zones and most certainly beyond contemporary polite and scientific evidence. For these young people we need something other than the evidence, the confident proclamations that we know the path, or the convenient use of language to render them other, less relevant, the exceptions. For these young people, we need new ideas about what our role in their lives can be or ought to be. And we cannot arrive at such new ideas by re-doing what we have always done, even if we have done so very well. We need a different source of inspiration, knowledge, and expertise. This, we think, we cannot find unless we engage these young people on their turf, taking the time to listen, to experience, and to render ourselves vulnerable by their version of life.
  • Social service -- Research -- Methodology
Publication Date
March 16, 2012
Publisher Statement
Copyright (2012) Taylor & Francis
Citation Information
Ben Anderson-Nathe and Kiaras Gharabaghi. "In Search of New Ideas" Child & Youth Services Vol. 33 Iss. 1 (2012)
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