Image shows The Usual Place building where they have their Cafe.

Fostering resilience in young people with additional support needs using a ‘settings’ approach

Inspired by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, this project, delivered by University of Glasgow researchers, investigated how organisational 'settings' (such as a workplace) might be used to promote resilience amongst those with additional support needs (ASN).

Date: May 2022

Authors: A. Bell, A. Whitelaw, A. Mackay, P. Barber

Inspired by the recent COVID-19 pandemic, this project, delivered by University of Glasgow researchers, investigated how organisational ‘settings’ (such as a workplace) might be used to promote resilience amongst those with additional support needs (ASN). The project was funded by the NCR as a pilot to discover more about resilience to extreme events, completed in partnership with The Usual Place, a social enterprise cafe in Dumfries who provide employment, training opportunities and support specifically for those with ASN.

The project’s findings have been written up in a full report, which is also available as a summary document and easy-read. They were then presented to a select audience at a knowledge exchange event held at The Usual Place in June 2022. 

Research questions:

  • How is ‘resilience’ broadly conceptualised within the setting?
  • What features of TUP as an organisation are significant in promoting resilience and what barriers exist?
  • What has been the specific effect of COVID-19 related circumstances on the potential for TUP to promote resilience within its young people?

The project’s full report can be read here: eprints.gla.ac.uk/273674/

You can download an easy read version: Fostering Resilience Easy Read Document


PROJECT SUMMARY

People with ASN currently face many health challenges, which have been exacerbated by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Given the latter, it is vital that research identifies how settings promote resilience and wellbeing more generally among such a marginalised group.

Within a general interest in fostering individual resilience, particular attention has been paid to the significance of young people and within this group, those with Additional Support Needs (ASN) (Scheffers, Moonen and van Vugt, 2020). This ground contains a series of observations on the broad nature of ‘resilience’, some general precursors for its attainment and a series of practical strategies for its promotion (Macedo et al, 2014). Much of this literature tends to focus on how individuals themselves can be resilient. However, an emerging feature of this ground points to a series of wider possibilities – the utility of various ‘ecological’ (Ungar and Theron, 2020) and ‘settings’ (Vlot-van Anrooij et al, 2020) based approaches.

Building from this, we wanted to investigate how organisational ‘settings’ (like a workplace) might be used to promote resilience amongst those with ASN. Adopting an exploratory case study approach, we partnered with a social enterprise community café called The Usual Place (TUP) in investigating this further. TUP is unique in that it specifically aims at increasing the employability, wellbeing, and social inclusion of those with ASN (who are trainees in the café), factors which are closely linked to resiliency. This is achieved through a nuanced mix of ‘real world’ café work placements, intensive needs-led support and providing externally accredited vocational qualifications.

Background/context
People with ASN currently face many health challenges, which have been exacerbated by the recent COVID-19 pandemic. Given the latter, it is vital that research identifies how settings promote resilience and wellbeing more gnerally among such a maginalised group. 
A settings (or wider ecological) framing of resilience focuses on how the place someone inhabits (work of school) plays a critical role in helping them overcome adversities (Ungar and Theron, 2020).

We interviewed seven trainees and ten (internal/external) stakeholders in addressing the following three main research questions:

  • How is ‘resilience’ conceptualised within the setting?
  • What features of TUP as an organisation are significant in promoting resilience and what barriers exist?
  • What has been the specific impact of COVID related circumstances on the potential for TUP to promote resilience with its trainees?

Following data collection and analysis, our evidence suggests that TUP as a setting effectively fosters resilience amongst its trainees. Key features associated with this included: the importance of personal support, the ‘safe’ nature of the setting, avenues for community integration and peer support. Moreover, these features were interconnected with what we termed ‘dynamic strains’ – a phenomenon referring to contrasting features of the organisation which promoted resilience. Significantly, such strains were not delivered in a simple ‘one-sided’ way but had to be negotiated in relation to a series of tensions, like ensuring safety whilst at the same time exposing trainees to controlled risk.

In terms of the recent impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, trainees described how during lockdown they often experienced fear and isolation. However, this had been effectively mitigated by on-going support from TUP, in particular the success of regular zoom sessions. Finally, in framing resilience, stakeholders within the organisation saw it as a process rooted both within the individual and their wider social context, associating it with the maturation process of ‘becoming’ an adult. Some metaphors were also offered,
such as a “bendy tree in a big storm.”

Building from these findings, we offer a series of recommendations for both future research and practice. A sample of these is provided within the table below. In summary, TUP as an organisational model has significant potential in fostering resilience amongst young people with ASN, highlighting the importance of translating our findings and principles to other contexts.

Four key points/next steps
Defining resilience: stakeholders perceived resilience as stemming from both the individual and their wider social context, emphasising that it is a dynamic and on-going process of ‘maturation’ (transitioning into adulthood) and ‘becoming’. Therefore, we need to see the fostering of resilience as an on-going, dynamic process. 
Core TUP features: in promoting resilience a number of critical features connected to the TUP setting were identified, including: the importance of personal support; the ‘safe’ nature of TUP and avenues for community integration and peer support. We need to build features that will support resilience into the core of our organisations (like TUP has). 
Dynamic tensions within TUP: the fostering of resilience is not a simple ‘one-sided’ task but is the consequence of negotiating a series of dynamic strains, like ensuring safety while at the same time exposing trainees to controlled risk. We need to negotiate a balanced appraoch to the exposure of ‘safety’ and acceptable ‘risk’ if resilience is to be manifested.
The COVID pandemic: TUP played a critical role in helping trainees get through the pandemic, maintaining a presence in the young people’s lives when other support was withdrawn. Regular Zoom sessions throughout lockdowns was particularly effective in helping trainees cope with feelings of lonliness and isolation. It is vital that a presence and active communication with young people with ASN is maintained during health emergencies. 

References

Macedo, T., Wilheim, L., Gonçalves, R., Coutinho, E.S.F., Vilete, L., Figueira, I. and Ventura, P., 2014. Building resilience
for future adversity: a systematic review of interventions in non-clinical samples of adults. BMC Psychiatry, 14(1), pp.1-8.

Scheffers, F., Moonen, X. and van Vugt, E., 2020. External sources promoting resilience in adults with intellectual disabilities:
A systematic literature review. Journal of Intellectual Disabilities, pp.1-17.

Ungar, M. and Theron, L., 2020. Resilience and mental health: How multisystemic processes contribute to positive outcomes.
The Lancet Psychiatry, 7(5), pp.441-448.

Vlot-van Anrooij, K., Naaldenberg, J., Hilgenkamp, T.I.M., Vaandrager, L., Van Der Velden, K. and Leusink, G.L., 2020. Towards
healthy settings for people with intellectual disabilities. Health Promotion International, 35(4), pp.661-670.

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