During their most vulnerable developmental life phases, over 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (hereafter, respectfully Indigenous) Australian students from Cape York and Palm Island are required to transition away from home to boarding schools. These students are part of a group of over 4,000 Indigenous secondary school students (11-18 years) nationally from remote communities who lack educational options, and hence are expected to attend boarding schools. The five-year, NHMRC-funded ‘Resilience Research for improved Transition Support Services (TSS)’ study is a mixed-methods, psycho-social resilience study. TSS workers and university researchers are exploring approaches to enhance resilience of remote Indigenous students at boarding schools. This presentation reports findings from the Pilot Phase of the study (2016).
An interrupted time series design is being used to evaluate levels of change in students’ resilience, educational outcomes and psycho-social wellbeing, with the ultimate goal to reduce suicide risk. The design is based on randomisation of primary and secondary schools and groups of de-enrolled students supported by TSS staff, with three structured questionnaires collaboratively developed by TSS staff and researchers. Questions were adapted from internationally validated resilience measures, suicide risk questions and the Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K5). The surveys were completed by students from three schools during the Pilot Phase (2016), and will be administered twice more during Phases One and Two of the Study (2017-18). Surveys were administered in Terms 1 and 2, 2016 with students: (i) preparing to go to boarding school (Year 6); (ii) students attending one of the three boarding schools (Years 7-12); and (iii) students who had been excluded from a boarding school and were back in their home communities (Years 7-12). Separate statistical analyses were undertaken for each outcome for each group using the statistical software program, SPSS.
Results were finalised mid-2016 and will be reported. Resilience measures will be compared with findings from Australia and internationally. Resilience of students, including risk and protective factors of psycho-social wellbeing, will be discussed. The findings have broader applicability for informing resilience strategies that will contribute to the reduction of suicide risk in other high risk groups of students.