In youth care research and daily practice, vulnerability is a challenging concept. Dominantly, vulnerability is conceived as a personal trait. Young people are considered vulnerable because of their low socio-economic background or educational level, gender, age, mental health status, etc. These characteristics are viewed as critical conditions that limit their opportunities to flourish. Two related issues can be considered as problematic in this conceptualization of vulnerability. First, it is an extremely individualistic notion of vulnerability. Second, this individualistic conceptualization of vulnerability ignores the importance of social context. Consequently, seeing vulnerability as a personal trait risks labeling young people as inevitably and personally fragile.
In this project, we challenge this reductionist way of looking at vulnerability. Based on a quality of life perspective on youth care, we consider vulnerability as a social phenomenon. Quality of Life reflects an ecological approach which views children and adolescents as individuals who are best understood within the context of the environments that are important to them. From this quality of life perspective, vulnerability is not so much a personal characteristic, but rather the result of an interaction between individuals and their surroundings. Social vulnerability occurs when young people derive little benefit from societal institutions and are continually confronted with the negative effects of these structures. So, young people in youth care, coming into contact with e.g. the educational or justice system, are at risk of mainly experiencing the negative effects of these institutions leading to stigmatization, discrimination and finally exclusion from society.
Chris Swerts , Fien Van Wolvelaer
1/04/2018 - 22/09/2019