Although evidence exists that millions of young people are vulnerable to multiple levels of economic, health, and social challenges, our understanding of youth vulnerability and marginalization remains elusive. Vulnerability differs across cultures and contexts. Different factors influence youth development differently, some at the individual level (e.g., age, ethnicity, gender, disability status, sexual orientation), others are embedded in their immediate context or environment (families, communities), and at the structural level of the societies they live in (e.g., poverty, racism, political insecurity). In this paper, we present our Intrinsic, Contextual, and Structural Analytical Framework for Vulnerability (ICS analytical framework), a framework based on the Socio-ecological theory that presents the dimensions of vulnerability, the intersectionality of these vulnerabilities, the pathways of enabling environments, and indicators to measure these vulnerabilities. This tool is based on a scoping review of literature that captures the experiences of marginalized youth.
Although this study is not a systematic review, we strictly adhered to the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses (PRISMA) guidelines for systematic reviews. A priori eligibility criteria were developed to guide the inclusion and exclusion of studies. Our research review included both peer-reviewed and grey literature. We reviewed 35 studies describing specific experiences of vulnerable youth in LMICs. Most of the studies were conducted in Africa (n = 23) followed by Asia (n = 6), Middle East (n = 3), Latin America (n = 2), and Eurasia (n =1). Experiences were also categorized into eight broad categories based on the prior experience discussed in each publication. Using the socio-ecological theory, we developed typologies, experiences, and outcomes of vulnerabilities. Using focus groups of youth, we collected data to understand the meaning of these vulnerabilities according to these typologies. We employed an interdisciplinary approach to investigating the tools used to measure these different vulnerabilities and created matrixes to collate all the indicators that measure the different vulnerabilities. Through focus groups with researchers, practitioners, and young people, we tested these vulnerabilities' definitions, measures, and pathways.
In many existing definitions, vulnerability is used as a term to group behaviors, situations, or circumstances. These definitions avoid the underlying question of what vulnerability is.
A typology of factors that contribute to vulnerabilities includes intrinsic (micro), mezzo (contextual), and macro (structural) level factors. To measure vulnerability, accounting for all levels is important. Indicators at the intrinsic level include physical and mental health, gender, ability status, developmental stage, and education status. At the mezzo level, indicators include family structure, peer influence, social inclusion, ethnic identity, and belonging, and at the structural level, indicators include youth voice and participation, human rights, civic engagement, political participation, stability, employment, and income.
The ICS framework is a critical first step toward shifting practitioners' and researchers' conceptions of vulnerability and allowing researchers to accurately measure vulnerability in unique ways that can best inform targeted programming to address issues of contextually and culturally specific forms of vulnerability. Future research will test the accuracy of these measures using across different groups of VMYs.