Measuring the wellbeing of First Nations youth

Australian youth are among the healthiest in the world, but First Nations youth continue to be left behind. To help close this gap, researchers are developing a wellbeing measure specifically for First Nations youth.

Date published:
General public

What matters to First Nations youth?

‘First Nations youth experience a high level of disadvantage and social inequity compared to non-Indigenous youth,’ says Kamilaroi woman Professor Gail Garvey from the University of Queensland. ‘But they are also resilient and have family, community and cultural strengths to draw on. We want to identify the wellbeing strengths of First Nations youth and how we can enhance their wellbeing.’

To find out what matters to First Nations youth, Gail and the research team used PhotoYarning.


‘First Nations young people facilitated our PhotoYarning method,’ explains Dr Kate Anderson, a University of Queensland senior researcher.

‘The research team travelled across the country and gave digital cameras to young people to take photos of what matters to them. This gave the young people power to tell their story in a way that resonated with them.

‘We conducted yarning circles at 17 different sites in 6 Australian States and territories. 178 young people participated. They went out into their community and their homes to take photos of things in their lives that they felt were important.’

Gail enthuses, ‘young people really did embrace the process and using the cameras. We then shared their photos in the yarning circles. We asked why they took this photo? What's important to them about the photo?’

‘There were photos of dogs and guinea pigs and birds, food, friends and family, and mentors that they really respected,’ says Kate. ‘Someone took a photo of their bedroom and a bed because it was important to them to have their own space,’ Gail adds.

‘One young lady had a photo of strawberries and cream. When you look at that photo, you would think it's about food. But when she told us the story of why she took that photo, it was about her connection to her grandmother who had passed. They always used to sit and have strawberries and cream together.’

‘The range of things that people took photos of was diverse and they took incredibly strong photos. It was inspirational to see,’ Kate says.

Analysing the photos

‘A group of young First Nations researchers and non-researchers analysed the photos and the yarning circle transcripts,’ Kate continues. ‘They came to a consensus-based understanding of what was important to the young people based on these photos.’

‘Now we've got a draft measure of 33 wellbeing statements that privilege the voices of First Nations youth,’ Gail tells us.

A scoring system for First Nations youth wellbeing

The team is using a large survey of First Nations youth to develop a scoring system for the wellbeing measure. This will show their preferences for the relative importance of different items within the measure.

‘The result will be the first national wellbeing measure for First Nations youth,’ Gail says. ‘It will have broad applicability. It can be used in national mental health surveys, in schools, the justice system and health services.’

‘I think these measures are strengths-based and culturally appropriate,’ Kate adds. ‘They are grounded in the voices, preferences and values of First Nations youth. It's easy to get enthusiastic about a project that is filling the gap in such a positive way.’

The MRFF funded the What Matters 2 Youth Project with $1,896,841.

Help us improve

If you would like a response please use the enquiries form instead.