Confident Futures

Research Problem Statement:

A recent issue of the British Medical Journal entitled “How Should We Define Health?” ventured an answer by referring to people’s “ability to adapt and self manage in the face of social, physical, and emotional challenges.” The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation’s (RWJF) Culture of Health Action Framework likewise emphasizes that “resilience, adaptation, and attaining the highest level of well-being that is achievable is the real goal.”

Nevertheless, public health research largely continues to evaluate the success of interventions against parameters firmly rooted in the biomedical metrics of mortality and morbidity, including obesity and psychiatric disorders. This conundrum is particularly stark when we examine initiatives designed to promote positive mental health among young people, since most public health research cannot conceptualize or capture the social dynamics of successful health promotion. Community-level knowledge and its application are often left to social scientists, whose bottom-up, systemic methods have yet to be fully leveraged in the shift towards resilience and adaptation, and away from the pathology of the poor.

Rather than inquiring about the specific causes of problems or why young people fail to do what professionals want them to do, our proposed action research focuses on what young people successfully do in their locally-based practices of mutual care and the aspirations for health, happiness, safety and well-being that inform their practices. Our goal is to learn from young people affected by the long-term consequences of adverse childhood experiences who are forging their own lives within low-income, marginalized and disrupted communities. We intend to learn from eight grassroots initiatives designed to strengthen youth resilience and which connect youth to peers, mentors and role-models so that they can more effectively confront multiple inter-related challenges, identify talents and collectively work towards more confident, healthy and productive futures.

Lead PIs: Helena Hansen (David Geffen School of Medicine), Rayna Rapp (NYU), Anita Hardon (University of Amsterdam)

Ethnographers: Melissa Maldonado-Salcedo (NYU), Amarilys Estrella (John Hopkins University), Nastaska Ilonka Roels (University of Amsterdam)

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Mel MalSal


Melissa Maldonado-Salcedo, Ph.D