As young people develop and become more competent and mature they will naturally be subject to higher expectations from society and the significant others in their lives.
In general young people require a consistent, reliable service that is uncomplicated and simple to understand. Adolescents require certainty and are very sensitive to injustice and being let down by adults, particularly when they have been exposed to inconsistent parenting.
Early stage adolescents are more amenable to direction and in the main require more structured programming. Middle stage adolescents are expected to benefit from structure but become very sensitive about direction from adults. Health and social care practitioners need to take care to ensure the young person feels they are in the ‘drivers seat’. As this group moves into late adolescence young people need to be allowed progressively more agency in managing their own circumstances.
Expectations around the ability to consider and plan for the future also need to shift. Older adolescents can be expected to be more interested in the future and more able to make and enact long term plans. This is of course still subject to the availability of meaningful opportunities. Such expectations can be unrealistic for early stage adolescents and those moving into the middle stage who are often cited as having an intense ‘here and now focus’. This increases the propensity for clients in these stages to miss appointments and be difficult to locate. This developmental attribute calls for a service response such as more assertive outreach and more assertive support and follow-up around referrals. In contrast it is fair to expect older adolescents to take greater personal responsibility for their participation.
Young people entering and moving through middle adolescence are expected to be more discerning about the identities they are prepared to consider and the values they adopt. “Value clarification and thinking beyond the present helps reduce risk behaviours” (Aronowitz, 2005)(p207). This process becomes increasingly important as clients develop more capacity for reflection.
Developmentally appropriate expectations also apply to the issue of dependence. Effective youth AOD services offer young people an opportunity to engage in working relationships that are robust and supportive. This means that constant consideration needs to be given to whether young people are developing an inappropriate dependency upon workers by young people.
At the same time it is vital to recognise that for young people who have experienced highly distorted and disrupted family environments, a period of healthy dependency involving a sense of safety and confidence in asking for and receiving help from another person or service, may be a critically important developmental experience. Depending on the level of psychological and developmental damage a young person has sustained, and the extent to which other dependable people are available, such a stage of dependency upon a worker or service may need to extend for a considerable period of time, at least until alternative dependable connections can be established and maintained. Over time it is important to maintain a focus on transferring hope and trust in dependable relationships to other individuals.
Where possible youth AOD services encourage young people to identify with the service and not just the individual practitioner. Clients are encouraged to form strong bonds with all or multiple team members. For a small number of more vulnerable young people, a relationship with one worker may be all that is possible to achieve at a particular stage in their life.