NUMBER 792 • 25 JULY • PROMOTING RESILIENCE
In the final analysis, children and young people are not placid consumers of resources but actors in their own right who, from an early age, powerfully influence those around them and the course of their future lives (Prout, 1998). This is where promoting resilience comes in.
A central finding in all the literature on psycho-social adversities is that some children despite prolonged and severely negative experiences survive intact. What is this 'X' factor? Certainly personal attributes play a part ('the born survivor') but there is also much that can be done to promote resilience. Bruce Compas (1995), in studies on children's coping strategies, found that one of the biggest threats to children's mental health is the persistent presence of minor irritants rather than occasional major stressors.
In New Zealand, the Christchurch longitudinal study (Fergusson & Lynksey, 1996) compared two groups who scored highly on a family adversity index. Assessed at age 15- 16 the resilient group had low self-reported offending ratings, police contact, conduct problems, alcohol abuse, and school drop out, whereas the non-resilient group had high ratings on these factors. The first finding was that in this high risk group, the resilient young people had significantly lower adversity scores.
In the NZ study, those with multiple problems usually had the highest scores. Resilient young people tended to have higher IQs at 8 years; had lower rates of novelty seeking at age 16 and were less likely to belong to delinquent peer groups. Girls were no more resilient than boys. There was little difference between the two groups on parental attachment, and other individual features were not linked to the variations in resilience.
What are the implications of this study? Firstly, even with children who experience multiple adversities, lightening the load may free up energy that can be used productively. Secondly, in adolescence the key influence is not so much the family but the peer group. Common sense strategies to divert young people away from delinquent peer groups seem to be supported by research.
Rutter (1995) in reviewing all the research, hypothesises that resilience in young people may be promoted by:
Reducing sensitivity to risk by giving young people opportunities to succeed in challenging activities.
Reducing the impact of the risk by parental supervision; positive peer group experience; avoidance of being drawn into parental conflict; and opportunities to distance oneself from the deviant parent.
Reducing negative chain effects resulting for example from suspension from school; truancy; drug and alcohol abuse.
Increasing positive chain effects by eliciting supportive responses from other people e.g. linking a young person with someone who may help in getting a job.
Buchanan, A. (2004) 'Learning to lump it?' How to improve the mental health of children in public care. Is it just a matter of building resilience? International Journal of Child and Family Welfare, December 2004, pp 201-202