Abstract: Creating Youth-Adult Partnerships for Critical Consciousness Building in Ost Spaces: A Photovoice Project (Society for Social Work and Research 27th Annual Conference - Social Work Science and Complex Problems: Battling Inequities + Building Solutions)

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Creating Youth-Adult Partnerships for Critical Consciousness Building in Ost Spaces: A Photovoice Project

Friday, January 13, 2023
Encanto A, 2nd Level (Sheraton Phoenix Downtown)
* noted as presenting author
Rebecka Bloomer, PhD, Post-Doctoral Fellow/Research Manager, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
Aishia Brown, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
Sara Williams, MSSW, PhD Candidate, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
Jessica Callahan, BS, Student, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY
Background and Purpose: Youth voice refers to the involvement of youth in decision-making around relevant issues and is a central feature of youth-adult partnerships (Y-APs). Opportunities for youth voice are created through organizational design intentionally embedding chances for youth to reflect and evaluate programmatic efforts. Principles of youth voice require adults to shift their ideological understandings of power, challenge ageist hierarchal perspectives, and value youth as partners in their work. Y-APs serve as the foundation for youth participatory action research (YPAR), offering the opportunity for youth and adults to engage in equitable relationships in the research process. Rather than being subjects of research, equitable relationships allow youth to inform research design and scope of inquiry. Even so, a range exists in how and when researchers engage youth voice throughout the research process. Photovoice (PV) is a participatory action research method which centers (1) democratic involvement of youth, (2) critical consciousness building, and (3) social action to promote healthful policies and practices. The purpose of this research was to explore youth-identified areas of community strength and concern for youth living in high areas of multidimensional poverty.

Methods: Photovoice methods were employed with 11 adolescents (11-14 years old) attending an out of school time (OST) program with the partner nonprofit. Focus groups to identify topics for exploration occurred with 1) staff and social work students 2) parents and 3) youth participants. Focus groups served to guide session themes. The project included 10 picture-taking and critical dialogue sessions and 12 critical consciousness development and social action planning sessions. Youth identified field trips and experiences necessary to help better understand issues of concern, using these experiences to build critical consciousness and develop action strategies of 1) creating digital art collages, 2) creating social media message campaigns, and 3) creating and sharing videos.

Results: Youth described experiences with gun violence and environmental concerns, such as poor lighting in neighborhoods, few playgrounds, and excessive garbage. Despite experiences often associated with inequities, youth expressed feeling these concerns existed in all communities. Youth described general lack of awareness, racism, and poverty as reasons for inequities. Participants described their ideal communities having both good and bad elements, indicating “ideal” communities free of crime and other societal concerns could not exist. Youth expressed the need to view their communities with objectivity rather than pity, also emphasizing the strengths that exist in community.

Conclusions and Implications: Researchers must consider the appropriateness of their methods with the populations served. The education system often fails to provide youth facing inequities mechanisms to understand systemic factors undergirding problems, requiring intentionality on the part of researchers to embed opportunities to explore these concepts while maintaining equitable relationships. Researchers must consider the ethics of engaging in projects under the pretense of making community change. The literature speaks to the popularity of PV methods but speaks less concretely to how social action led to substantive change in circumstances. Participants were not interested in formal art displays, reflecting the need to potentially reassess dissemination strategies.