Abstract

It is well established that educational attainment and social support are critical social determinants of health among Aboriginal Canadians. Still, the gap in educational attainment with non-Aboriginal Canadians continues to grow, and little is known about the role of social support as a health determinant among Aboriginal youth. In collaboration with The Wabano Centre for Aboriginal Health (Ottawa, Canada), we undertook focus groups with urban Aboriginal youth at-risk to examine perceptions of their urban school environments, including access to social support. Data were analyzed using a general inductive approach. Results indicate that youths’ perceived level of trust is key to the uptake of social support and vital to fostering sense of belonging. Youth identified social support as both structural and functional; the former being a symbol of the ‘potential to help’ and the latter representing ‘actual help.’ The unique challenges endured in the home environments of Aboriginal youth at-risk means that teachers and staff must be prepared to provide forms of support that are responsive to these realities. Part of the solution will come from implementing measures of cultural safety that support the resources needed for Aboriginal youth at-risk to experience sense of belonging, thereby making urban schools places where youth will achieve their educational goals.

Acknowledgments

We gratefully acknowledge the support of our Research Assistants - Lauren Coyle and Conrad Prince. We also thank Elder Paul Skanks, and Wabano's Wolf Pack team. Dr. Chantelle Richmond holds a CIHR New Investigator Award in Aboriginal Health. Dr. Dawn Smith holds a Loyer-DaSilva Research Chair in Public Health Nursing

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