ARACY extends pioneering wellbeing framework with focus on identity and culture

by Jason Roberts

September 09

ARACY, the Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth, has built on it’s evidence-based wellbeing framework for children and young people called The Nest by creating a new conceptual framework that specifically focuses on measurement of a key, and previously unmeasurable component of The Nest, namely children’s sense of identity and connection to culture.

 

The Nest was developed in 2013 in consultation with 4,000 Australians and presented the evidence that for an Australian child to thrive they needed their needs met in six key interlocking dimensions: Being Loved and Safe; Having Material Basics; Being Healthy; Learning; Participating; and Having a Positive Sense of Identity & Culture.

 

The challenge for the authors, practitioners and policy makers at the time was that the first five needs were relatively straightforward to observe, measure and quantify but the sixth, “having a positive sense of identity and culture” was not. 

 

In response to this ARACY set out to develop a conceptual framework, based on principles, that would facilitate measurement via a review of current literature and best practice indicator development to complete the practical contribution that The Nest wellbeing framework could bring. 

 

Why is identity and connection to culture so important for young people?

 

As the report notes, having a positive sense of identity and a connection to culture has been shown to positively impact academic and psychosocial outcomes among young people as it improves perceptions of self worth and social connectedness to family and community. 

 

The importance of this is not lost on the Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) sector as the notion of belonging and sense of identity, both personal and group, is a key part of the Early Years Learning Framework (EYLF) which describes the principles, practices and outcomes that support and enhance a child’s learning from birth to five. 

 

However, although belonging is a central focus of the EYLF, the ARACY work aimed to deepen the understanding of identity and connection to culture from a measurement perspective so that structures could be put in place quickly to identify when deficits existed and constructive interventions could follow to address the shortcomings. 

 

A conceptual framework that helps explain identity and culture outcomes

 

In order to do this ARACY first developed a conceptual framework that aimed to explain the influencers and impactors of a young person’s identity and culture and secondly created a set of principles that would form the basis for developing a set of indicators for measurement. 

 

From a conceptual perspective it was concluded that environmental factors such as the power and presence of influencers like family, peers, educators and community groups existing in the spaces the young person accesses like at home, in community spaces, at school or online plays a key role in the formation of identity and connection to culture. 

 

The framework also went on to highlight “markers” that influence outcomes such as values, beliefs, gender, age, behaviours, practices, cultural and family heritage, appearance, language, sexuality, abilities and disabilities, social and personal responsibilities and places and locations.  

 

How these markers interact with influencers and spaces determines the extent of self worth and social connectedness ie: identity and connection to culture of a young person. 

 

Measuring identity and culture: A principle based approach 

 

A key outcome of this latest body of work by ARACY was to develop and present principles for developing indicators around the Nest domain of “having a positive sense of identity and culture.”

 

As the practice paper “Measuring children and young people’s sense of identity and culture” notes “These principles are developed from evidence on what identity and culture mean for children and young people conceptually; the overlap between these two constructs; the interpersonal and spatial factors that influence the development of self-identity and connection to culture for children and young people; best practice in indicator development; and how data and information is currently collected on children and young people’s sense of identity and culture.”

 

The principles are as follows:

 

  1. Indicators should be grounded in theory and supported by a conceptual framework reflecting key aspects of identity and culture as determined through the literature.
  2. Indicators should be consistent with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
  3. Indicators should place the adults in a child and young person’s life with the responsibility for enabling the formation of a positive sense of identity and culture – including the provision of a safe space to explore their identity and opportunities to engage with family and cultural heritage.
  4. Indicators should be developed with the engagement of stakeholders, primarily representatives of and experts on the groups from which the information will be collected, and representatives and groups of people that will use them.
  5. Indicators should be focused on the outcomes of having a positive sense of identity and culture, and the processes involved in their creation and display, not just the description of prescribed demographic backgrounds. 
  6. Indicators should have specific relevance to stakeholders and act as a leverage for change.

 

With the development of a conceptual framework to understand the interrelationship between markers of positive identity and connection to culture attributes and a clearer understanding of how they interplay with influencers and the environment, a roadmap for creating measurable indicators The Nest framework originally created by ARACY can now be viewed as more complete as each set of interlocking needs can be measured and benchmarked. 

 

This research will help inform practitioners and policy makers as they seek to ensure children and young people have the necessary conditions to thrive and if they don’t it is clearly visible why and support can be directed accordingly. 

 

For more information on the ARACY report please click here

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