Youth Support Library

Christine Ferron - School Drop Outs

Despite a long term decrease in global drop out rates, the status and evolution of young school drop outs has generated increased interest among health professionals in recent years.  Leaving school prior to completion definitely limits most young people educational and professional perspectives and also severely impairs their economic and social well-being throughout their adult life.  It is virtually impossible to obtain a precise assessment of the extent of this issue, because accurate rates for school drop outs remain difficult to determine.  Several factors contribute to this basic uncertainty, but the most critical one is how to determine whether or not a person is a school drop-out.  The variety of the definitions seems virtually unlimited. 

In an attempt to standardise this notion, we decided to consider that the term ‘drop-out’ would stand for adolescents who left any kind of educational system  without any useable degree and without getting involved in any professional training or qualified job.  This term includes adolescents who decided to drop out from school and students who were excluded from the educational system as well. 

In Switzerland 5% to 8% of 15 to 20 year olds drop out from school or training programmes without any title of education.  Two years ago we conducted a study designed in order to assess the health attitudes, behaviour and needs of 15 to 20 year old school drop outs in French speaking Switzerland.  The data was collected by means of an anonymous self assessment questionnaire, distributed by health professionals or educators in different settings.  We compared this data to similar ones which were collected in schools among adolescents within the same age range.  I will show some of our results to illustrate my presentation.

Transversal studies conducted in the area of health status and health behaviour, overwhelmingly agreed about the existence of a poor health status among adolescents who drop out from school.  Besides basic health problem they present a lower level of concern about their body and themselves, a lower level of physical activity, more nutritional problems, and a higher frequency of accidents.  They are earlier initiated into the use of licit or illicit drugs.  Their consumption appears more important and more frequent.

With regard to the behaviour of youngsters in their sexual life - here is what we found about the frequency of sexual intercourse, which is higher among drop-outs.  The number of sexual partners is also higher amongst drop outs especially among boys.  Contraception use is more often occasionally or not at all among drop outs.  This behaviour is translated into a higher level of sexually transmitted disease, abortion and pregnancy - the latter being a possible direct cause for dropping out.  Drop out may also be victims of violent acts, including sexual abuse or injuries arising from violent circumstances.  Here you can see that unplanned pregnancies and sexual abuse are much more frequent in drop-outs than in adolescents in schools.

Families of drop-out adolescents show a number of characteristics which were highlighted by a number of studies.  A larger proportion of father and mothers who are non working, unemployed or retired, do not get any direct income from a professional activity, a lower level of education, a high proportion of parents without a qualified degree, an important of non-qualified labourers among fathers.  Financial sources more often average or below average.  A head of family more frequently from a foreign country.  The most salient research findings tend to describe family contacts which fails to provide adolescents with a basic security which thus gives them feelings of self-doubt and unfulfilment, a lower level of cohesion, a lack of emotional bonding, closeness, loyalty and empathy, an inflexible structure, an extreme rigidity of internal rules, definition of roles and strategies for problem solving.  A limited ability to adjust to changes.  Parents indifferent or negative attitudes towards education may also be highly influential factors. 

Drop out youth tend to present more frequent feelings of personal failure, ruthlessness and hopelessness. They have lost the notion of professional and life choice, they have more negative perception of society as being violent, rejected, unfair and contemptuous.  They more frequently express hostility or anti-social tendencies.  They have little hope of attaining a secure and challenging job which would provide them with some sort of economic security and a social status in the average.  They have more frequent perspectives that they find depressing, becoming blue collar workers or employees without the hope of being promoted and they have projects far away from the job market.  Creation of their own business or dream job.  They have a low level of knowledge concerning the school  and professional choices available to them and the necessary steps to go back to school or to find a job.

Regarding their psychological adjustment, drop-out youth are more often inhibited by the perception of their inability to accomplish personal goals.  They have a deficient self-image and a non-valued body image, a higher psychological vulnerability and an emotional instability, a more external locus of control, a higher anxiety level, more depressive symptoms and suicidal thoughts.  Here is what we found regarding these tendencies.  Much more drop outs felt depressed, wanted to kill themselves, or attempted suicide.

Drop out youth are also more worried about their future, they have a lower level of life satisfaction.  They more often express the need for a personal help and feel more lonely.  Here is what we found among girls, the percentage of respondents saying they need help in various areas.  All the percentages are higher in drop-outs, but the sharpest differences concern depression, sentimental life, professional future, difficulties with parents, tobacco use and drug use.  Among boys the most important differences also concern depression, professional future, difficulties with parents, tobacco use and drug use, but school and work, sleep, and alcohol use are added to the list of problematic areas.  There is also a higher incidence of undesirable events in these adolescent’s lives.

Finally adolescents who have left school are also different from their peers who have remained in school as far as their attitudes towards the school system are concerned.  For instance, in their opinion, school is not helpful when it comes to the decisions regarding their future professional life. There is also a higher frequency of school phobia and academic failure amongst these adolescents.

Thus, as you can see most research on school related factors as focused on student behaviours and performance on school, little attention has been given to the influences of schools themselves, their organisation, teachers and leadership, on students decisions to drop out.  Yet, many drop outs attended schools where they found conditions that could affect their performance at school and ultimately their decision to leave.

The results of longitudinal studies show that in fact dropping out can be beneficial to some kids - as well as for the schools they attend.  Some students choose other alternatives over than going to school - alternatives which in some cases can be more fulfilling and rewarding.  A study of high-school graduates and drop-outs found, for example, that some drop-outs showed equal or greater improvements in self-esteem and a sense of control than high school graduates.  Overall, however, most findings support the notion that dropping out has negated individual and social consequences.  A few of them also suggest that overall poor adjustment pre-existed in these adolescents.

The most immediate individual consequence of leaving school without any qualification is a low level of academic skills, which makes it difficult for them to secure a steady employment or an adequate income and limits their access to additional education.  The absence of education activity also has negative effects on their personal and relational adjustment.  Inactivity and lack of stimulating perspectives can entail a tendency to become depressed, a lack of self confidence and a feeling of guilt, related to the belief of lacking the necessary abilities to be fully accepted as adults.  All these negative feelings favour the adoption of life habits which can possibly have harmful effects.  That might be an increase in meditation or drug use, symptoms of stress or psychosomatic symptoms are more frequent than among adolescents in school.  On a relational level there is a dismantlement of their social network and a progressive decrease in their contact with their friends who stay in school.  

Out of school young people also seem to have a greater tendency to become delinquents.  Here is what we found regarding divine behaviour.  Drop out girls and boys are more likely to have run away from home, spray painted the walls, stolen in a public place, beaten up someone or intentionally broken something. 

Family relationships are not spared in this progressive degradation of the quality of social life.  In some cases conflicts appear in family circles which used to function successfully before, in other cases pre-existing difficulties are increased by the presence inside the family of a inactive adolescent who has more and more difficulty in accepting parental authority and to submit to him or herself to the rules of family life.  Here we can see that drop-out adolescents are much more often afraid of having conflicts with their parents, or being beaten by their parents (although those percentages are also quite large for adolescents in school).

Not all students can or should be expected to finish high school or college, but all of them should be considered as our resource for the future, and should be given the chance to be properly trained, to acquire some professional skills or to learn a job in an appropriate setting.

Here are some of the elements that may be needed to develop a successful strategy of drop-out prevention. 

Different programmes aimed and designed for different types drop-outs.  Different kinds of students drop out for different reasons.  Some are related to problems at school, others are related to factors outside the school.  A comprehensive strategy will need to address all these factors. 

An appropriate mix of educational and non-educational services in each programme.    Effective programmes must first address the particular academic needs of the students, by providing the appropriate kind of curriculum, mixing academic and vocational studies, constituting equal ability groups of students.  A sensitive and responsive teaching staff.  Individualised instructional progress, and even a adapted schedule and location.

Secondly, these programmes need to address other needs of students, and perhaps the most important is their psychological need for someone to care about them individually.  A need for connectedness which can be met through thorough guidance of counselling.

Our team is currently conducting a research and an action among young school drop-outs, which consists of supporting a group of 100 of these kids during one year.  A first assessment of their situation was made one year ago and a second one after one year.  This group will be compared to another group of 100 drop-outs who have not been supported by us during the same year.  We hope to be able to show that even a light support, if personalised, has a significant and positive impact on their psycho-social adjustment and school re-integration.  Accurate and timely identification of students with a high risk of dropping out.  A study found that half of the drop outs interviewed did not discuss their decision with anyone at school before they left.  Another research that some drop outs begin showing signs of academic failure and disengagement in school in the early elementary grades.  Particular attention should be given to the support which is provided to the adolescents immediately after their first failure during the educational classes, or immediately after their first expression of their desire to give up school.  These appear to be key moments for the future of these adolescent’s education.

As regards to drop out youth’s social integration many results of enquiries emphasise the superior value of broad multi-competant community wide programmes, aimed at changing the social environment in which adolescents are reared and educated.  Interventions which are supposed to be the most effective are associate community education, intensive dialogue with policy makers, participation of the media, interventions in and out of school, and relation groups including different complementary partners interacting inside a network.

Some measures were also proposed within a smaller scale.  The essentially include the creation of appropriate types of curriculum and the possibility of offering a second chance to recent immigrants.  The school integration to these young people, may also imply their easy access to local and national information about the nature of the jobs that are available without any degree and the material conditions of unemployment.

As far as health is concerned, the improvement of drops outs access to information principles as an inventory and a presentation of the existing resources in health care and in health promotion. The useful places, organisations, persons and financial support.  Several authors emphasise the benefits of individual attention and recommend personal counselling.  This type of approach does not exclude the occasional participation of some members of the adolescents parents, teachers or other educators.  Others have noticed the efficiency of group work and suggest setting up therapeutic groups, this methodological choice is generally related to the trend that consists in the increasing the adolescents participation in initialising and developing the social adjustment process.  This increased participation may have a positive influence on their level of motivation and it may also help school leavers maintain a sense of identity and feel like fully active social members. 

Whatever the method, the therapeutic objective generally remain the same.  School drop outs need to establish a life project, to improve their relationship skills, their ability to communicate and to co-operate.  Some authors emphasise the objective of empowerment or self esteem and self confidence improvement, but on the condition that underlying issues are also addressed.  On a cognitive level there is frequently mentioned their need for a better self knowledge and an improvement of their ability to solve problems or to reach logical solutions. 

On the more particular level of the relationship of the adolescent to the school, the work and the environment, it seems that one of the principal objectives of the therapy is to carefully analyse and deeply understand the reasons for the lack of expressed motivation, accepting young people as they are at the start rather than immediately requiring  the adoption of so called realistic attitudes.   Another fundamental objective is to favour the emergence of a dynamic perception of school and education as crucial components of a balanced existence. 

All the conditions preceding and accompanying dropping out are so closely related that it remains difficult to determine with any certainty whether school leavers problems are symptoms or causes of their failure to complete a school programme.  Indeed personal vulnerabilities function as part of constellation of contributing factors that precedes dropping out of school and drop out status itself may play a closer role in fostering a depreciation of self perceptions and social group contacts conducive of development of problematic behaviour or patterns.  The identification of the various indicators which predict the likelihood of dropping out could be positively completed with research studies designed to explore the possible influence of resiliency factors.  Indeed the reasons why some students with an unfavourable background manage to stay involved in an educational environment and why others with comparable underlying difficulties decide to drop out of school are still unclear. 

The main findings of one research on this subject found that scholastic competence is positively linked with the number of sources of help and a higher sense of self esteem.  A better knowledge of the school related factors which are associated with dropping out may provide some interesting explanations regarding this issue.  Indeed we need thorough studies focused on school processes involving institutional forces, internal organisation, explicit and implicit rules, types of leadership, teaching methods, staff training and modes of assessment.  We also need to uncover the processes that underlie and lead to dropping out. 

Many of the factors that are known to be associated with this problem are structural in nature and reveal little of the underlying processes.  For example why to young migrants of the second generation have higher drop out rates?  Some possible explanations include the use of language in the home, the pressure that parents place on youngsters to learn and use English, the values they transmit regarding education and work, the circumstances surrounding the families immigration, the social status of the family and so on. 

As it appears clearly the needs of school drop outs are multi-dimensional.  Primarily social, academic and vocational, the difficulties of school leavers are also salient in areas of psychology and health.  In Europe, in countries where access to free health care is made relatively easy, several studies have shown that unemployed school leavers consult health professionals more frequently than their peers who stay in school, both before and after they decide to drop out.  This higher number of meetings with various health professionals underlies the higher level of health needs in this population of young people, who may actually have a tendency to convert their psycho-social concerns into actual physical symptoms.  The role and involvement of health professionals in the field of drop out prevention and recovery needs to be more accurately defined in order to favour the adjustment of their actions to the diversity of types of school leavers.  In particular improving the efficiency of their action on the double level of early detection of dropping out and the comprehensive charge of school drop out implies health professionals implement and use a multi-disciplinary network which would more likely to address the whole structure of drop out’s adjustment issue



Dr Aggrey Burke - ‘The challenge of race - the outcome of teenage pregnancies’

What I want to talk about today in the limited time is really teenage pregnancy among dysfunctional mothers, and the sample is drawn from among a group of persons who presented with child care concerns and there selected by attending school in Britain.  The reason is quite straight forward, those who don’t attend schools in Britain do a bit better, and I am not making any..... the department of education is doing a good job!  But there we are.

Now the population of these persons is very much an abusive one, a half come from inter-parentally violent homes, a half have been sexually abused, more suffered from other forms of abuse, and two thirds of them feel rejected in their homes.

The sample is a sample that is personal to me, about 250 persons, and about a third of them were adolescent at the birth of their first child.  Whether that is an increase or not is up for grabs.  It is not the middle classes, it is the population of people who have a difficult life experience as indicated here.  Two thirds ran away from home.  Two out of five had an in care experience.  Quite a lot attended psychiatric clinics in adolescents and one in ten went to a secure home.

Now, you can ask why are we concerned with this?  And we are concerned because of the issues which confront us here in London, in terms of half the children, we believe, in the care system may be black.  And  I mean by black, no Asian, but looking like me or something like that!  This population of dysfunctional mums are also very unhappy in adolescence.  They feel unwanted and unloved, they take overdoses, they abuse alcohol and drugs and they sell themselves in one way or another.  So, this is a very sad group, and I was very interested to hear about the drug users, and how one might start looking at the whole issue.  But in adulthood this population which have come to me as mums, remain suicidal continue to get in trouble with the law, they abuse alcohol and drugs, they are violent and they present a serious risk of child abuse.  And adolescent mums and adult mums are very similar in this regard. 

So, one might want to know then why we should be interested in the adolescent mum as compared to the adult mum.  Well, the adolescent mum is far more likely to be disturbed, and by disturbed I mean disturbed.  And they are far less likely to be psychotic, and I mean by psychotic - mad, for those of you who don’t practice the same trade.  The adolescent mums, when the come to adulthood, are more likely to abuse drugs, and choose partners who abuse drugs.  And that is a critical issue - they need soul-mates, and the soul-mates do the same things as themselves, that’s a worry. 

Now, the fact of the matter concerning this population is that they live on income support -  they are an underclass, to be absolutely clear, they are an underclass.  They live on income support, and in dependency housing, and we have here the high court and the other courts spending a great deal of time talking about this down in our group.  Most of whom, or at least half of whom will be black.  And why look at the race dimension.  Well, the first reason is that that is what I work in, and the second reason is that most of the people who work in it are white, and maybe interested in some theoretical constructs, though for us it is like practical constructs in that when we look at the prisons and other places like that, we find the population of dysfunctional mums, and dysfunctional children, and dysfunctional dads ending up there as well.  So we are very concerned about that.

Now, there are three ethnic groups which I describe here.  One is black with two parents black, one is mixed race with one parent black and one parent white, and one is white.   I don’t know what white means these days, but anyway, they don’t look black!  What we find when we look at these three groups, which is the point of the discussion today, that there are excesses found among mix races and white mums in my sample according to their experiences in their childhood.  The mix race and white, often the mix race had a white mum so you could say that they are not dissimilar from the whites in terms of who there mums were, but they come from families that are often inhabited by an alcoholic mum or dad, and the parents are more likely to be violent to each other than the black mums.  And it is interesting too that this dysfunctional family of the mix race and white group seems to have more forensic problems among their dads.  So we have a sense that this underclass of mix race and whites if rather different from the underclass of black, and that what makes sense to us.  We believe that they get into the underclass not simply to do with black, where the blacks get into the underclass for reasons for mainly to do with black - that is what we believe.

Now, the mix race and white mum, suffer more physical illness in childhood.  That is very interesting when thinking about the last speaker talking about drop-outs, similar problems of physical illness and this is something we should think about when trying to understand adolescent mums.  The mix-race mums are in fact different to the white mums and the black mums in so far as they are more likely to be suicidal.  Exactly why this is the case is interesting to speculate, but they have racial identity confusion in 70%.  

Now, it is all very good for white workers to say that they can undo and work with racial identity confusion, we believe they are mainly escape from it, and simply don’t deal with it, and when a mix-race mum is working with a white worker, it is more likely than not, that the white worker will skip that issue.  But it is common in terms of the dysfunctional mum that comes into the services.  It is interesting too that 20% of the black mums also had racial identity confusions.  the reasons for that are worth debating, but I won’t get into that today. 

The black mums are different from the other groups in so far as they were more likely to have been brought up in an maternal extended family setting, and that makes sense from African, Caribbean and black American populations.  Now, there are no differences in the childhood experiences in these three groups, in terms of sexual abuse.  Which as you will see is very common in this sample and there is no difference in other abuse and about half were in care at some time.  It is very interesting that the dysfunctional mum presenting might have very powerful similarities in how they present.  There is no ethnic difference either in terms of violence from the mum to other persons or in terms of recent forensic problems, problems with the law. 

Neither do we find ethnic differences in the numbers who are disturbed.  We find three in five are disturbed, two in five abusing alcohol or drugs, and two in five being suicidal.  And the three groups are very similar in that regard as well.  This here puts us in a frame in terms of how and what has happened to this population.  We find here that the mix race group tends to be black, a non white call here, whereas the white group seems to be different.  There is more sexual abuse in the white group, there is more neglect in the white group, physical abuse to a child is more commonly found among black groups in this sample.  And this leads to the work that is being done in America, which is finding similar distributions to the presentation of persons with these difficulties. 

So where does this take us?

It takes us into the problem of how these groups then start to model their lives.  And we see that the white groups and black groups here seem to be rather different in how they do their business.  White groups are more messed up and personality disordered, and disturbed.  Black groups are less likely to be so, even though the popular thing here is that us blacks are taking a lot of drugs in a big way. 

What are the implications of this work?

Well, it is really about the population of people.  That is what they do at Youth Support, the look at this kind of population.  They started 10 years ago in order to try and make sense of this population and there are many in London here, and in the rest of the country and perhaps in Europe too, who are struggling with is.  Has Europe got a race problem?  I say they do.  Are they spending money on it?  I say they are not.  Is there a way forward?  Well, here we have a situation as to the way backward or forward, I don’t know.  In this sample of adolescent mums, of dysfunctional kind, presenting with child care difficulties, coming through the courts, only 25% of their children will go home. 

The rest will go to nice children’s homes, will be exposed to abuse, not only sexual and physical, but racial abuse, we believe, in such facilities.  And we make no apologies, because we work in those children’s homes ourselves, and yet we know that if only three quarters of dysfunctional mums, can be worked with, if that three quarters are loosing their children can be worked with at a very early stage, then they would not have been dysfunctional.  Can they be worked with later on?  I cannot answer you that.  What we know in terms of working with this population, is that we have real difficulties.  Most workers are white, most training is done in a framework as though the race perspective is now irrelevant.  Most of the dysfunctional mums which we find in London here, and in Britain, are likely to be exposed to some of the realities of race and otherwise, that are presented today.  I haven’t given you any  answers, I know that, but I have, I hope, opened your mind to possibilities.


Keith Drinkwater -  Research on running away and street children.

In 1985 following 4 years of consultation and research  the first Safe House Refuge was opened  in London. This was followed by two further Residential Refuges (Leeds & Bournemouth),  1 family based in  Newport, S. Wales and  Street work was carried out - without a refuge - in Manchester & Birmingham.

Five pieces of research were carried out and published:

·      1988            London Safe House   The Children’s Society (TCS)

·      1992            Runaways         NCH Action for Children

·      1993            Survey of our 1200 young people. 13 - 16 in Leeds          TCS

·      1994            TCS work with children/y.p. who run away or are on the street

·      1996            The Centrepoint/NSPCC Refuge in London         

Newman, C. Young Runaways: findings from Britain’s first safe house.  The Children’s Society, 1988. - A study of young people at Britain’s first refuge for young runaways, plus a nation-wide survey of police missing person statistics.

Key findings:

*           Incidence of abuse amongst young people who run away;

*           Over-representation of young people from residential care amongst young people on the streets in London;

*           Estimated 98,000 missing person incidents (under 18 years old) each year in the UK.

Abrahams, C and Mungall, R. Runaways: Exploding the Myths.  NCH Action for Children, 1992. A study of police missing person statistics in five areas of England and Scotland.

Key findings:

*           Estimated 102,000 missing person incidents (under 18 years old) involving 43,000  young people each year in England and Scotland;

*           Young people  generally do not run away to the ‘bright lights’ but stay in their local area;

*           Over-representation of young people from residential care amongst young people who are reported missing.

Rees, G. Hidden Truths: young people’s experiences of running away.  The Children’s Society, 1993. A survey of young people in Leeds, plus interviews with young people with recent running away experience.

Key findings:

*           Estimated 1 in 7 young people in Leeds have run away and stayed away overnight before the age of 16;

*           Very high incidence of running away amongst young people in residential care, but also a higher incidence of running away from family than had been previously estimated from missing person statistics;

*           Running away usually starts within the family, even amongst young people who later run away from substitute care.


The young people have generally had a high level of disruption in their lives.

Within the family there was a high incidence of relationship breakdown, conflict and violence. Most of the young people had spent periods in substitute care and often had had a number of different placements.  A significant minority of the young people had spent extended continuous periods away from both family and substitute care before the age of 16.  Amongst the over 16 year olds, frequent changes of accommodation and periods of homelessness were common.   Most of the young people lacked support networks (apart from the streetwork projects). There was a high level of detachment from family and (where relevant) social services.  There was also a high level of detachment from the education system.   Many young people had a distrust of adults and relied on peers for support.    There were significant levels of substance use, self-harm, depression and criminal offending amongst the young people interviewed.

The large majority of the young people had run away before the age of 16.  Most of the young people had first run away from family, usually remaining in their local area, and only staying away for a short time.     Many of the young people who had run away from family were subsequently placed in substitute care.

Most of the young people had run away many times and later running way incidents were on the whole more extensive and wide-ranging than first incidents.

Young people identified a number of positives to being away from where they lived, including relief from pressure and making new friends, but the majority felt that being away had not helped to sort out their problems.  There were also a number of negative experiences including fear, loneliness, and physical and sexual assaults.  A majority of the young people had resorted to strategies such as stealing, begging or providing sex for money in order to survive.


Drawing on the research data, a model of intervention has been developed.  This suggest that future work with young people could develop along broader lines to incorporate:

*           Primary prevention (e.g. education in schools);

*           Secondary prevention (e.g. mediation between parents and young people);

*           tertiary prevention (e.g. street-based outreach work and refuge-based work).

There are a number of areas for consideration by other agencies including:

*           The need for a co-ordinatoed response to working with young people who run away;

*           The need for a response to the issue of young people running from residential care, and in particular to the issue of bullying;

*           Education support for this group of young people.

The research has also highlighted a number of social policy issues including:

*           Young people’s legal position under the age of 16;

*           Support for young people leaving care;

*           The impact of family breakdown on young people.