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Supporting Youth

Although Sudanese parents were largely concerned about losing their parental authority, their youth felt unsupported in their new environment. Young people from a refugee background face immense challenges in negotiating the developmental transition to adulthood within the context of forced migration and resettlement. Prior to resettlement most have been exposed to highly traumatic and violent events. After resettlement they have to locate themselves within a new cultural space while trying to find support and security within their fractured families and communities. Many also find themselves becoming an important source of practical and emotional support for their families (Earnest et al. 2007). In the case of South Sudanese youth, their moral and customary obligation extends to family members still in Africa.

Many of the young participants appeared to struggle with bridging the gap between their traditional culture and the new one. They frequently recounted their own or somebody else’s confusion in their new social, cultural, and economic environment. In general, their narratives revealed tensions between education and family obligations, future expectations, and present difficulties. They were struggling to transform their old and new experiences into a coherent and workable narrative. Participant community and youth workers were also of the view that some Sudanese children and young adults felt confused while navigating their ways between the different cultural values of their families and the external environment:

The kids sometimes are very confused. The parents want them to be in one way, but when they go out there, they meet new friends and the culture out there is different from what is expected of them to follow (Female Sudanese community worker).

Some thought that the current parenting practices of South Sudanese parents are often experienced by children as of no use and can leave children and young adults unsupported in their efforts to settle into their new cultural environment:

Sometimes the kids think that their parents’ behaviour is not helpful for them. But the parents don’t understand it that way. They just think why my kid does not understand me when I want him to learn and to have a good future. They think my kid has been disrespectful or confused, or they blame it on the freedom in Australia, or the police or child protection (Male Sudanese youth worker).

For example, although all parents had high hopes and expect that their children perform well at school, young participants believed that they did not have sufficient time to study as they often had to assist their families by performing various chores.

Lack of parental support for the sporting and social activities of children and youth was also a recurring theme. Such activities facilitate cultural adaptation and are recognized as positive coping strategies in culturally and linguistically diverse young people (Olliff 2008). But often it was unrecognized by their parents who do not see merit in their sporting activities, especially if they have limited financial resources.

An issue specific to young women is lack of information and guidance from mothers on safe sexual practices. As raised by a young participant at an African refugee women’s group consultative feedback session:

All we get from our mothers is silence around sexual issues and health. All they say is “don’t get pregnant.” In the meantime teen pregnancy is rising rapidly in the community (Female South Sudanese youth participant).

Participating parents, youth, and workers agreed that, in most cases, when young people moved out or ran away from their families, they were not prepared for their independence and often engaged in high-risk behaviors because of lack of parental discipline, guidance, and support.

Supportive relationships and mentoring from parents and relatives are important pathways for youth to become responsible and successful adults, and deficiencies in these relationships can contribute to negative outcomes for children. Thus, supporting parents and families to a point where they can provide effective guidance to their children and youth is a vital strategy.

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