Purpose of research

This study longitudinally investigates (Wave 1 – 2015; Wave 2 – 2017) the resilience processes of at-risk youth in South Africa.

Research question

Resilience is defined as doing well despite significant hardships (Masten, 2014). Doing well, also known as demonstrating functional outcomes, implies that individuals unexpectedly illustrate positive development. Their positive development is unexpected, given that chronic and/or severe hardships predict negative outcomes (Ungar, 2013). Hardships are described as lived experiences of risks, which likely increase negative outcomes. Hardships typically refer to traumatic life events (e.g., war, natural disasters, trauma), social issues (e.g., poverty, unemployment, substance abuse), or biological risks (e.g., physical disability, premature birth, illness) (Wright, Masten, & Narayan, 2013). This study is a follow-up study of the Pathways to Resilience Research Project, 2009-2015, a five-country study with a proven track record in South Africa (see www.optentia.co.za or www.resilienceproject.org). The first wave of the study was completed in September 2015 as part of the principal investigator’s (Dr Angelique van Rensburg) Postdoctoral Fellowship at the North-West University, Vaal Triangle Campus, under the supervision of Prof. Linda Theron (co-investigator of the Pathways to Resilience Research Project and member of the Extended Pathways to Resilience Study).

Possible contributions of the study

Since very little is known about the long-term pathways of resilience in South African young people (Theron & Theron, 2010; Van Rensburg, Theron, & Rothmann, 2015), this study aims to fill this gap. Answers arising from this study will provide practitioners, educators, and policymakers with a more comprehensive understanding of youths’ patterns of risk and resilience over time. The latter is important to support South African youth to adjust positively to hardship, to sustain such positive adjustment, and to do better than society typically expects them to do. The findings from the 2009-2015 Pathways Study suggest that schools and teachers play an important role in young people’s resilience (Jefferis & Theron, 2015; Liebenberg et al., 2016; Malindi & Theron, 2011; Theron, 2014, 2015; Theron, Liebenberg, & Malindi, 2014; Van Rensburg, Theron, Rothmann, & Kitching, 2013). By extending this initial study, which included only youth from the Free State province, it is likely that more representative results will be generated that will be even more useful to the various stakeholders (i.e., practitioners, educators, policymakers).


This study is a longitudinal mixed-methods study, making use of quantitative analyses (e.g., latent growth modelling, structural equation modelling) of the Pathways to Resilience Youth Measure (PRYM), and qualitative methods (e.g., draw-and-write) will be used. During the first wave of the study, 424 Grade 8 youths from eight Quintile 1 schools in the Sedibeng District, Gauteng province, participated. The researchers revisited these young people to follow up on how their resilience has/has not been sustained in a second (2017) and third wave (2018) of this study.

The PRYM consists of multiple subscales measuring youths’ perceptions regarding risks and resilience-promoting resources in their communities. In the Pathways to Resilience Project (2009-2014), the PRYM was successfully administered to 1 137 South African adolescents (aged 12 to 19). The Child Youth Resilience Measure (CYRM), a scale measuring resilience supporting resources.

Draw-and-write entails requesting participants to make a drawing that shows their understanding of a given research phenomenon and to explain what their drawing conveys about said phenomenon (Guillemin, 2004). It is reported to be a non-threatening, powerful means of privileging youth understandings, particularly when research foci include abstract phenomena such as resilience (Mitchell, 2011). Participant explanations about the meaning of their drawings limit concerns relating to subjective, researcher-led interpretations of drawings (Guillemin & Drew, 2010). In the proposed study, participants’ drawings will be guided by the following broad prompt: ‘What has helped you to do well in your life so far, even though you face difficulties? Please draw what has helped you to do well in your life so far.’ On completion of the drawings, participants will be asked to explain, in writing, using their language of preference, how whatever they have drawn has been supportive of their resilience (i.e., how the drawn resource has encouraged them to adjust positively to hardship). Data was gathered by trained (by investigators), literate fieldworkers/community members, who administered the quantitative and qualitative research instruments in ethical ways (in this way, the fieldworkers/community members also gain valuable skills).

Research instruments

The Pathways to Resilience Youth Measure (PRYM) is used to gather quantitative data. The questionnaire consists of multiple scales and subscales investigating risks, resources, strengths, difficulties, social determinants of health, school experiences, service usage, and resilience processes within respondents. Also, draw-and-write will allow the researcher to gather qualitative data on youths’ perceptions regarding their risk and resilience-promoting resources.

The PRYM was vetted by a mixed-race community advisory panel (CAP), consisting of professional and everyday community members from the Eastern Free State. The CAP altered the language of some of the items in the PRYM, but other than that, they considered the PRYM ethically acceptable for use with South African youth. This CAP-approved version will be used in the current study. For full details of the CAP process, see Theron (2013).

Expected outputs and benefits of the project

This study addresses the need for validated resilience scales that are contextually and culturally relevant for use in South Africa (Van Rensburg et al., 2015). Thus, the data generated could result in peer-reviewed publications and conference papers of further validation studies of the Child Youth Resilience Measure (both the 28- and 12-item versions), latent growth analysis of the participants’ resilience, as well as various other mixed-methods studies investigating the sustainability of youth resilience in South Africa. This study could also possibly result in two master’s dissertations and one doctoral thesis. Lastly, this study aims to disseminate the findings further by meeting with all participating schools and showcasing how young people in Quintile 1 schools can be supported towards resilience.


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Jefferis, T. C., & Theron, L. C. (2015). Community-based participatory video : exploring and advocating for girls’ resilience. Perspecitives in Education, 33(4), 75-91.

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