The problem: Referred to as a ‘last resort’ mental health intervention, RTPs serve youth (aged 12–18). Since the 1970’s a shift has occurred among RTPs from fostering isolated, self-contained settings, towards promoting family and community integration. The extant literature on ICT use by youth in RTPs suggests this shift toward integration has not formally incorporated the exponential growth of ICT. Understanding how youth in RTPs engage with ICT can inform how best to ensure they are not excluded from the benefits of ICT access, while simultaneously supporting safety.
Methods/Sample:This qualitative study was guided by a phenomenological approach. McCracken’s Long Interview Method (LIM) was applied to examine perceptions and experiences of ICT use among youth in RTPs. Purposeful sampling was conducted, and subsequently in-depth interviews with 15 youth from four RTPs were carried out. NVivo software was used to execute the LIM data analysis process involving movement from particular to general coding, applying specific and categorical observations, and comparison of themes.
Findings: Youth described how ICT had decreased their experiences of social isolation and mental health stigma and increased their capacity to contend with intersectional marginal identities (e.g., disability, mental health, LGBTQ2S, child welfare guardianship). While obstacles to ICT use in RTPs were discussed, participants reported that following an initial digital disconnect and crisis stabilization, ICT engagement facilitated positive youth developmental pathways toward enacting agency, leadership, and community and civic engagement. Examples included keeping up with world events, remaining connected to the LGBTQ2S gaming community, contributing to mental health recovery blogs, and participating in animal protection advocacy.
Conclusion: Despite safety and privacy concerns, there was general acceptance that some ICT access within RTPs was reasonable and complementary to program and treatment goals. Moreover, participants described ICT as a means to remain socially conscious and contribute to communities promoting social change. Findings suggest an approach to ICT in RTPs that focuses on pathways to positive youth development, simultaneously encouraging youth toward individual and social change.