The human resources available to young people can include parents and family members, friends and partners, and significant others such as teachers, neighbours, employers, coaches and, at times, the parents of friends. For some young people, particularly those with complex social, emotional and behavioural issues, practitioners working in a range of statutory, health and community services may also become an important human resource.
Young people’s social networks can have a protective influence and provide the scaffolding that supports constructive development and resilient adaptation. Klee and Reid (1998) found that social support acts as a buffer against stress. In particular, engagement in a connected relationship with a caring, competent and responsible adult has been shown to decrease risk behaviours in adolescents (Aronowitz, 2005).
Such relationships offer young people “…opportunities to develop responsibilities for decision making and increasing autonomy or self-reliance, within the context of supervision, nurturance and acceptance” (Aronowitz, 2005, p24). The natural support networks of young people can also be instrumental in encouraging, reinforcing and maintaining constructive changes (Cox, 2005).
The value an individual gets from their social network has been described as ‘social capital’ (see Putnam, 2000). One form of social capital, ‘bonding capital’, derives from an individual’s close/local and well-established ties, such as with family and friends who come from the same social context.
Eckersley, Wierenga and Wyn (2006) identify that feeling valued and accepted through participation in mutually supportive, caring relationships is associated with enhanced well-being. They also emphasise that “…access to resources depends upon webs of relationships. This means that young people’s well-being depends upon creating conditions of trust and exchange of resources, between young people and significant others, within families, and within communities” (Eckersley et al., 2006, p.19). Relationships capable of facilitating access to different social contexts and new resources and opportunities can provide young people with what Putnam refers to as ‘bridging capital’; another form of social capital.