What do we mean by resilience?

What do we mean by resilience? How can work with children and families reduce the risk factors and increase the protective factors associated with children’s resilience? This paper will examine the concept of resilience as it has emerged in the research literature of Grotberg (1995). It will evaluate the effectiveness of the concept in the area of developing more effective protective factors for children and families subjected to vulnerability and adversity.

It will be noted that resilience needs to be promoted on three fronts, work on individual resilience strategies, promotion of resilience through the organisations and agencies, such as school and the curriculum, family welfare services and promotion of resilience in the community. This paper concentrates on those aspects of reducing the risk factors and increasing the protective factors and the values and pedagogy that are claimed to be powerful providers to resilience.

Much has been written about promoting resiliency in children. The swift interest in this issue is probably most visible to those who work in the health and human services field and its regard is reflected in both the commercial non fiction literature as well as in academic texts (Hornby, 1998). To understand why this topic is receiving such constructive support, it is helpful to frame the issue of childhood resiliency in the existing context of health and social service improvement.

It is quite apparent that societies are in the middle of an overall shift in values and attitude with regard to what creates and supports health and well being. At its simplest, this shift could best be illustrate as a move away from an exclusive focus on risk factors, disease, and psychopathology, towards a more holistic approach that is increasingly concerned with health promotion, quality of life, well-being, and the influence of protective factors.

The concept of resilience is closely associated with risk and suggests that at risk children and families are more likely to develop an adverse outcome or disorder than others, which includes poverty, unemployment, homelessness, poor health, single parenting and divorce, organisational, social, cohort and family line diversity. Given the conceptual complexities of resilience, it is important to take stock of the individual factors, family dynamics e.g. step families, adoption, fostering and environmental difficulties such as war, drought, cultural beliefs, which resilience develops. Such a conceptual framework is likely to provide a useful yet multidimensional conceptualisation of resilience. Focusing on these individual, familial, and environmental risk and protective factors, their influence on the landscape of reunification and re-entry opens new avenues for exploration, which lead to more effective interventions for children and families (Rapoprt & Rapoprot, 1982).

Although protective and risk have often been used interchangeably in the literature, Rutter (1999) sees resilience as the attribute that characterise and structuralise the conceptual framework of protective perspective. The protective perspective emphasises the resources, assets, potentials, and capabilities of children, groups, families, and communities (Bernards, 1997). This approach also marks a definitive break from the typical human service perspective, which has focused far too long on pathology and deficits (Plomin, 1997; Rutter, 1999).

Traditionally, professionals were asking about what was wrong with people and communities. The protective perspective asks about what is right. The focus shifts from problems, liabilities, and pathologies to strengths, possibilities, and solutions allowing children/families construct their own futures, permitting the protective factors to highlight such concepts as empowerment, discussion, and partnership of support.

Based on a review of literature of (Rutter, 1998), it is reasonable to assume that the two concepts resilience and protective based perspective are closely linked and quite complementary. However, there is an important distinction between the two concepts. Resilience is a dynamic process or an attribute that lies within the child, the family, or the environment, whereas the protective stance describes the helping professional’s representation, which serves to enhance the ability to identify and apply resilience informed assessments and interventions in practice. Unless children/families are viewed from a protective base, the practitioner is likely to miss the resilience factors associated with a particular child or family and their environment and thus be less able to build on them.

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