Causal chain effects and turning points in young people’s lives: a resilience perspective

Bruce Johnson, Sue Howard


In 1997, we began a research project that tracked a cohort of approximately 55 students aged between 9 and 12 years over a period of 5 years. The students lived in highly disadvantaged areas in Adelaide. Our aim was to identify the individual, social and environmental factors that contributed to each student’s risk status and resilience and to track how this changed over time. By the end of the project the participants were aged from 13–16 years so we had been able to follow most of them through early adolescence and the often difficult transition from primary to high school. Our insights from the huge body of data thus gathered have been reported at Australian Association for Research in Education conferences from 1997 onwards, and in Australian and international refereed journals.

Many longitudinal studies, particularly in the areas of physical health and social adjustment (e.g., the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Health and Development study), have shown the benefits of tracking research participants beyond adolescence. Accordingly, we set about finding some of our former participants (aged now between 17 and 21) to ascertain their present risk and resilience status. In this paper, we draw on the work of Rutter (1999) to show, in two case studies, how negative and positive chain reactions influence people’s lives and how key events, turning points or critical life choices disrupt these chain effects.



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