Research into practice

The concept of “resilience” in children is one that has been
receiving increasing attention in recent years. This
report1 examines the role of resilience factors in
relation to children going through significant life transitions.
The authors define resilience as the ability to bounce back from
adversity. It can be seen as an important factor when it comes to
children coping with the challenges they meet.

Whether the transition a child experiences in moving from one
developmental stage to another, a bereavement or other loss,
entering or leaving care or changing schools, their level of
resilience will play a key part in determining how that transition
is handled and what effects it may have.

Children who show this capacity for resilience will be better
equipped to handle change and uncertainty and to cope with stress
and adversity. They will also recover faster from any traumatic
experiences they may undergo.

The report draws on a major review of the literature in this field,
The International Resilience Project.2 An important
finding was that the concept of resilience can be seen to apply
across countries and cultures (there were 30 countries covered in
the study). The particular emphasis of the study was on integrating
theory and practice and developing strategies for promoting
resilience. Resilience factors can also be seen to apply in three
areas or domains: the individual, the family and the external
environment. It can therefore be promoted at these three different

Another important issue identified in the study is the significant
role of poverty and deprivation. Where these factors were present,
additional difficulties in achieving resilience could be noted. For
example, in terms of both education and health outcomes, inequality
was identified as an obstacle. Given what we already know about the
significance of poverty and deprivation in people’s lives (and in
the lives of children in particular), it is perhaps not surprising
to learn that these factors are also problematic in relation to

The authors also address the significance of risk, and wonder
whether the current emphasis on reducing risk may be having an
adverse effect on the development of resilience. They ask whether
it is possible to achieve a better balance between protecting
children from risks and providing them with the developmental
opportunities they need if they are to develop resilience.

These are important issues to consider in today’s “risk society” in
which, if we are not careful, we can become obsessed with risk
reduction strategies without realising that reducing risks in some
areas can create risks in others. In my view, the important
challenge is that of developing effective approaches to risk
management, rather than the simplistic emphasis on risk reduction
that has taken root in some places. By risk management I mean the
assessment of the risk factors involved and the careful weighing up
of sets of risks. Risk is a multidimensional concept and not simply
a “bad thing” to be avoided. This report helps to challenge
simplistic approaches and is therefore a welcome contribution to
the debate.

The strength of the resilience approach is that it focuses on those
factors which play a positive role in promoting well-being, rather
than simply concentrating on a defensive reaction to those
circumstances which present a degree of risk.

Neil Thompson is an independent trainer and consultant with
Avenue Consulting

1 Tony Newman and Sarah Blackburn, Transitions in the
Lives of Children and Young People: Resilience Factors, Barnardo’s
policy, research and influencing unit, 2002

Edith Grotberg, “The International Resilience
Project: Findings from the Research and the Effectiveness of
Interventions”, in Psychology and Education in the 21st Century:
Proceedings of the 54th Annual Convention of the International
Council of Psychologists, ICPress, 1997

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