Social Ecology


Material resources & assets

Material resources & assets

Degree to which young person (& / or their carer/s) has access to:

  • Income
  • Housing
  • Food & Clothing
  • Information Technology
  • Transportation
  • Safe physical environments

Human resources & assets

Socio‐cultural resources & assets

Socio‐cultural resources & assets

Opportunities to contribute through Participation in:

  • Education, employment & training
  • Sport, recreation & leisure
  • Broader social movements

Connection with:

Health & community services

Health & community services

Availability & accessibility of:

  • Health care
  • Dental care
  • Mental health services
  • AOD services
  • Homelessness services
  • Counseling & support services
  • Emergency services

How resources and assets can be applied to meet needs and goals

Protection from harm & capacity to respond to crisis

Young people and those involved in their care require a range of external resources and assets to cope effectively with crisis. Clearly, material resources such as income, housing and transport are vital. Perhaps more important is the availability of helpful human relationships and safe places or havens that can provide respite. Where these resources aren’t naturally available, young people might require professional assistance.

This might mean that services provide particular resources such as a safe physical environment or transportation. Depending on the nature of the crisis and the young person’s specific needs, other agencies can include emergency services, AOD services, mental health services, homelessness services, 24-hour telephone counselling services, and support services that provide material aid.

Youth AOD clients, particularly those who are minors, require caregivers to protect them from harm and regulate their experiences as they develop. In this way, parents and/or legal guardians have a stake in how the health and safety of youth AOD clients is managed (see Section 6.5, Developmentally conducive connections). The capacity of parents and guardians to protect those in their care is helped and hindered by aspects of the wider environment (Hyde, 2005; Rhodes, 2002). Services should therefore be capable of providing young people and their carers with meaningful information, support and guidance through times of crisis.

In times of crisis, young people might also draw on cultural and/or spiritual connections with others for support and guidance.

Summary of relevant resources and assets

  • Material resources (income, housing, safe physical environments, etc.)
  • Human resources (providing care, support & reinforcement)
  • Caring guardians capable of providing appropriate discipline & monitoring (could be family)
  • Cultural/spiritual connections
  • Connection with enabling places
  • Availability & accessibility of relevant health & community services
Stability & capacity to meet basic needs

The fundamentals supporting human survival and social inclusion are shelter, food and nutrition, clothing and material resources, a reliable and sufficient source of income, safe physical environments, and adequate transportation. Access to information technology and communications has also become an indispensable resource for young people today.

Further, an essential ingredient to maintain stability is being able to exert control over one’s living situation. Young people (and their carers) require a place to call home with security of tenure.

Many youth AOD clients, particularly those who are younger, require carers or legal guardians to take responsibility for creating and maintaining stability in their lives. A stable network of relationships and participation in structured activities such as school, work or sport provide some degree of certainty and coherence. Connections with others that offer cultural and/or spiritual care and guidance can also promote a sense of security and have a stabilising effect.

Connection to a familiar neighbourhood and the availability of spaces (public and private) where young people feel comfortable and welcome have also been linked with healthy development (Malone, 2008).Duff (2011) points out that these ‘enabling places’ can produce feelings of security and belonging that can be instrumental in seeing them through tough times.

A range of health and community services might also be used proactively minimise the risk a client’s stability is undermined by a crisis stemming from, for example, underlying trauma. Community services might also offer young people to access helpful resources and that boost a client’s capacity to create and maintain life circumstances that are stable. The same applies for participation in constructive activities.

Summary of relevant resources and assets

  • Material resources (safe physical environments, sufficient income, housing, transportation, etc.)
  • Human resources providing care, support & reinforcement
  • Caring guardians capable of providing appropriate discipline & monitoring (could be family)
  • Cultural/spiritual connection
  • Availability & accessibility of relevant health & community services
  • Options for participation (education, employment, sport, etc.)
  • Opportunities for connection & sense of belonging (cultural/spiritual, enabling places, etc.)
Participation in constructive activity

The participation of young people in education and training, employment, or a range of sporting, recreational and leisure pursuits depends upon the availability of viable opportunities. Resources and assets available within geographic regions and whole communities are particularly pertinent for constructive activity.


Regions that can provide meaningful work and neighbourhoods that have public education and recreational facilities and programs tend to have lower rates of social problems such as misuse of alcohol and other drugs, crime and violence (Williams, Pocock & Bridge, 2009). The same is true where communities create environments and spaces that encourage healthy participation and contributions to community life (Victorian Department of Human Services, 2001).


Clearly participation also depends on the degree to which the individual young person and/or their primary carers have access to material resources, such as income and adequate transportation.


Participation in constructive activity can be promoted and reinforced by significant others in a young person’s social network. The act of participating can have the effect of building and strengthening the social network, offering opportunities to make connections with pro-social adults. This can offer clients a passport to future social contact and opportunities in new contexts (Gilligan, 2008, p44).


Depending on a young person’s background and particular identifications, they might also benefit from options to participate in cultural activities and/or connect with faith-based organisations or broader social movements.


Summary of relevant resources and assets

  • Opportunities for meaningful education & training, gainful employment, sport &recreation
  • Opportunities to participate in & contribute in cultural activities & spiritual practices
  • Opportunities to connect with & contribute to broader social movements
  • Material resources that support participation (income, transport, information technology)
  • Human resources (support, connection with opportunities, guidance & reinforcement)
  • Health  & community services
Developmentally conducive connections

Young people require carers that provide adequate regulation and structure for them. Many youth AOD clients have often had inadequate monitoring and few limits around their substance use. This can be a result of limited parenting skills or possibly parents and other family members struggling to limit their own substance use. Overly restrictive and harsh limit setting can also exacerbate substance use issues. There is increasing recognition of the need to enhance parenting skills and supports, as well as for AOD services to include families (Patterson, 2002).


Maintaining positive peer relationships from childhood to adolescence has also been found to be predictive of later resilience (Collishaw, Messer, Rutter, Shearer, Maugham, et al., 2007). Given that many youth AOD clients have complicated and/or disrupted relationships with their significant adults, peer support takes on extra meaning. Practitioners are advised to investigate and understand how peer networks enhance or detract from a client’s capacity to adapt and cope (Kidd, 2003).


Youth AOD clients often experience social exclusion and frequently lack access to potential role models, who tend to be embedded within schools, workplaces, sports clubs, churches and other socio- cultural institutions and organisations. At times, the only developmentally helpful role models or social relationships capable of providing a bridge to new resources and constructive experiences may be health and community services professionals (Green et al., in revision).


Network poverty has been identified as a “…barrier to [the] social support and informal health that we all need  to take part in [the] community and to enjoy the standards of living shared by the majority of people” (Vinson, 2009). This underlines the importance of facilitating social inclusion through participation and constructive activity as a way to help young people make positive connections that strengthen their social network.


Depending on the cultural and spiritual identifications of a particular youth AOD client, connection with relevant individuals, groups or organisations can build resilience (see section 6.3.5). It is worth noting that locating resources and assets that are culturally safe and relevant can be a struggle for many young people.


It may be helpful for practitioners to spend time with clients investigating their connection to places of significance. These are places that a young person might visit to lift their spirits or make connections with others. Safe, welcoming and at times exciting physical environments can add to a young person’s sense of connectedness and well-being.


Summary of relevant resources and assets

  • Family networks that reinforce belonging
  • Caring guardians capable of providing appropriate discipline & monitoring (could be family)
  • Friendship networks & romantic partners
  • Significant adults (teachers, employers, coaches, etc.) & role models
  • Culture
  • Spiritual/faith-based organisations & practices
  • Enabling places
  • Opportunities to participate in meaningful activities
  • Relevant health & community services
Greater control of health compromising issues / behaviours

To gain greater control over health-compromising issues and behaviours young people require stability and a secure base. Without these foundations, problems are more likely to overwhelm clients and create crisis. Consequently, material resources such as safe physical environments, income, housing, food and clothing, access to information technology and adequate transportation are all valuable in enabling a young person to maintain stability.


The effects of poverty, marginalisation and social alienation compound the degree of stress and hardship caused by health-compromising issues and behaviours and can restrict young people’s ability to find effective ways to deal with these issues.


A wide range of treatment and other service providers may be called upon for assistance. Youth AOD services may need to ensure that young people are well positioned to make the most of particular treatments and services. Equally, energy may need to be invested in ensuring that services are ready and willing to provide useful assistance.


Practitioners should also make every effort to harness and enhance the sources of motivation, encouragement and practical support for help-seeking and behaviour change that are available within young people’s natural support networks (Cox, 2005).


There is sound evidence that involving parents/carers in treatment and other interventions for substance misuse, offending behaviour and mental health problems enhances the engagement and outcomes for young people (see Section 3.6 for further discussion). Caring guardians can offer guidance and support plus appropriate discipline and monitoring. This provides structure and containment which can have the effect of engendering a sense of security and coherence. Broader networks of peers and caring adults that the young person is connected with are also a potential source of support, care and reinforcement.


Participation in purposive, rewarding activity and physical exercise prevents or moderates the effects of underlying issues that drive problematic behaviours. The same can be true for young people who connect with and access enabling places.


Summary of relevant resources and assets

  • Availability & accessibility of relevant health & community services (e.g. primary health, dental care, mental health services, AOD services, homelessness services, etc.)
  • Material resources that build capacity to maintain stability (safe physical environments, income, housing, food & clothing, information technology, transportation, etc.)
  • Human resources that offer support, care & reinforcement
  • Caring guardians capable of providing appropriate discipline & monitoring (could be family)
  • Socio-cultural participation: participation in purposive activity (education, work, sport, etc.)
  • Connection with enabling places