Stigma, risk and protective factors among vulnerable youth

Adolescence is a time of promise, when major physical, cognitive and relational transitions launch the development to adulthood. But stigmatization in communities and schools can derail this process for certain teens. Teens who are more likely to be stigmatized include youth on the streets; those in foster care or custody; sexually abused youth; gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered youth; and indigenous and ethnic minority adolescents. As a result of being stigmatized, these youth are at greater risk for health problems such as drug abuse, HIV infection and teen pregnancy. As part of an international study taking place in Canada, New Zealand and the US, Dr. Elizabeth Saewyc is examining behaviours and environments that stigmatize youth in schools. Dr. Saewyc is studying the links between stigma and risk behaviours, and exploring protective factors that can reduce these risks and build resilience among youth. The findings will be shared with groups of teens and youth workers in the three countries to gather their ideas for reducing stigma, creating safer schools, and preventing substance use and risky sexual behaviours in culturally meaningful ways. The research could lead to interventions to reduce or prevent stigma, to help youth cope with stigma, and to foster healthy development among vulnerable young people.