Childhood Resilience
Brigid Daniel
Professor of Social Work
University of Stirling
Evidence for practice
 Messages from research about the concept of
childhood resilience.
 Frameworks for practice, grounded in research
evidence and informed by practitioner experience
(and incorporation into GIRFEC).
 Research into how practitioners specifically put the
concept of resilience into practice.
 Some thoughts and issues to consider for practice.
‘a phenomenon or process
reflecting relatively positive
adaptation despite experiences
of adversity or trauma’ (p6).
Luthar, 2005
Resilient children are better equipped to resist
stress and adversity, cope with change and
uncertainty, and to recover faster and more
completely from traumatic events or episodes.
(Newman and Blackburn, 2002)
Three building blocks of resilience
 Secure base / sense of security and attachment
 Self-esteem
 Self-efficacy
Resilient people can say:
‘I HAVE………….…people I trust and love’
‘I AM……………………..a loveable person’
‘I CAN…………find ways to solve problems’
Grotberg, E. (1997) ‘The international resilience project.’ In M. John (ed) A Charge against
Society:The Child’s Right to Protection. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Messages about young people and resilience
 Chronic stressors can cause more long term problems
than acute events.
 An accumulation of stressors is more damaging e.g.
 ‘Children may often be able to overcome and even learn
from single or moderate risks, but when risk factors
accumulate, children’s capacity to survive rapidly
diminishes’ (Newman and Blackburn, 2002).
 Over-protection from stressors can reduce
opportunities to develop the skills to deal with
Foundations in infancy
 attachment to caregiver(s)
 language
 differentiation of self from environment
 self control and compliance
Adapted from Masten, A. & Coatsworth, D. (1998) ‘Development of competence in favorable and
unfavorable environments’ In American Psychologist, Feb 1998 cited in Horwath, J., Ed. (2001). The
Child's World: Assessing Children in Need. London, Jessica Kingsley Publishers
During school years
 Resilience associated with sense of self-efficacy,
mastery and appropriate autonomy.
 Unhelpful combination of attributions are those
that are internal, stable and global
“Its my fault, it’s going to last forever, and its going
to affect everything I do.”
In adolescence
 In adolescence attachments are still very important
 Patterns of behaviour will have become more
 Young people are likely to have developed their own
repertoires of coping
Messages about intervention
1. Reduce vulnerability and risk
2. Reduce the number of stressors and
3. Increase available resources
4. Mobilise protective processes
5. Foster resilience strings
(Masten, 2004)
Models for helping to
conceptualise resilience and
frameworks for practice
‘Resilience Matrix’
Devised in collaboration with Sally Wassell and Robbie Gilligan
Resilience ‘domains’
Designed with children in mind,
but adaptable to other ages
cottish Government (2008) A Guide to ‘Getting it right for every child’
Model for Intervention
Identify and support
protective resources
Understand the
impact of adversity
of transition
Remove or reduce the
impact of adverse
effect of transition
Nurture capacity to
benefit from these
Resilience strings
 Secure base
 Education
 Friendships
 Talents and interests
 Positive values
 Social competencies
Example of Positive Values
• Parent/carer factors associated with pro-social
behaviour (Schaffer, 1996 and Zahn-Waxler, RadkeYarrow & King 1979):
• provide clear rules and principles for behaviour, reward
kindness, show disapproval of unkindness and explain effects of
hurting others
present moral messages in an emotional, rather than calm
attribute prosocial qualities to the child by telling him or her
frequently that they are kind and helpful
model prosocial behaviour themselves
provide empathic care-giving to the child.
Example of Social Competencies
• Need to be clear about the aim of the intervention –
consider the comment by Masten and Coatsworth that
attempts to boost self-esteem to improve behaviour can
lead to ‘misbehaving children who think very highly of
 Need an ethos where the approach to self-esteem takes
account of relationships:
‘Appreciating my own worth and importance and having the
character to be accountable for myself and to act responsibly
toward others’
(California State Department of Education)
Social Competencies
• Development of social competence is associated with
parenting/caring that is warm, sensitive and provides
clear boundaries and requirements for behaviour.
• Antisocial behaviour is associated with an environment
that is harsh, punitive, rejecting and inconsistent.
• Need to pay attention to:
• cognitive areas
• affective areas
• behavioural areas.
Self-efficacy and competence
 Resilience associated with sense of self-efficacy,
mastery, planful competence and appropriate
 Self-efficacy:
 Problem-focused coping – change the problem if you
can or
• Emotion-focused coping – change how you think and
feel about the problem
‘A body of research points to ‘problem-focused’ coping,
rather than avoidant or passive responses, as being
most successful for a range of adversities. This involves
responding to hardship by taking active steps to
modify features in the environment or oneself that are
contributing to the difficulty in question’ (Hill et al,
 ‘Planful competence’ (Rutter) – being able to see
different options.
In addition:
 Empathy, positive values, making a contribution - all
contribute to resilience.
Active coping
 ‘Many children report using avoidance or
distraction as a coping strategy when there are
problems at home’ (Gorin, 2004).
 ‘Periodically separating themselves mentally and
physically from the home’ (Bancroft et al 2004).
 ‘Some ways of ‘escaping’ are beneficial, but others
are costly in terms of an unplanned and
problematic transition to adulthood and an
unsettled or unstable early adult life.’ (Velleman
and Templeton, 2003).
‘Resilience’ and ‘resistance’
 A study of US teenagers who were earning their living
by prostitution showed that they resisted the ‘victim’
 'Instead of a doe-eyed crying victim [practitioners]
confront a strong, willful, survivor who looks and acts
quite differently from the victims portrayed in the
media.‘ Williams (forthcoming)
 Active coping strategies but some coping skills that
worked in one situation, don’t work in others - e.g.
Work with the grain…
‘The child is a person and not an object of
concern’ (Butler-Sloss, 1988).
Therefore we need to concentrate on building on,
and enhancing, existing coping mechanisms;
involving young people as active participants and
avoiding potentially unhelpful consequences.
 Daniel, B., Vincent, S., Farrell, E. and Arney, F. ‘How is
the concept of resilience operationalised in practice
with vulnerable children?’
 When an organisation has the explicit aim of
nurturing resilience in vulnerable children:
 how do practitioners translate that aim into practice and
 how congruent is the described practice with the
principles indicated by the existing literature on
 Survey of 201 practitioners (108 in the UK; 93 in
Australia) and
 32 case studies (18 in the UK; 14 in Australia)
Practitioners link it with
principles for practice
respectful engagement with, and involvement of the
service user in practice
2. the use of solution-focused and strengths-based
approaches to practice
3. the need to target all ecological levels
4. the need to take a holistic and multi-agency
Respectful engagement
 Not exclusively associated with a resilience-based
 by engaging with children in a way that involves them
in assessment and planning, that encourages them to
contribute to decisions about their lives and that
provides them with positive choices, practitioners
could help to create the conditions for the
development of better self-efficacy.
Solution focused
 It may be that these terms are being used as
‘shorthand’ for more positive approaches to practice
that counteract the preoccupation with risk and
problems that can characterise bureaucratic systems
 Further research needed to examine whether the
adoption of optimistic discourses can lead to better
outcomes for children over and above the specific
model for intervention that is used.
 UK services focused heavily on the coping and skills of
the individual child with associated support for the
parents or carers, and the Australian services were
dedicated to improving the well-being of parents and
family unit and placing that unit within the best
possible community network.
 The research showing factors at different ecological
levels to be associated with resilience suggests should
target all levels (Werner & Smith, 1992).
 The concept of resilience is one that has resonance for
all disciplines
 The promotion of the resilience of children, families
and communities can offer a shared approach for the
professional network
 Focusing on what can be done can galvanise the
protective network.
Case studies - UK
 improvement of self-esteem / to like self more
 improvement of peer relationships
 improvement in school experience / behaviour
 control of anger / managing disagreements
 naming feelings / emotional literacy.
anger control / emotional intelligence
raised self-esteem / better peer relationships / improved
school experience
 In delving deeper the circularity and inter-
connectedness of many of these themes becomes
apparent. Improved self-esteem, for example, can be
described simultaneously as an intended outcome, but
also as a route to outcomes. Similarly, improvement in
peer relationships can be seen as a positive outcome,
but a route to better outcomes.
Some issues and questions for
Resilience Knowledge Exchange Seminar – Scottish Social
Networks Forum; Rock Trust, Stirling University
Focus on resilience in transition.
What is adversity?
 How do definitions of adversity vary according to who
is defining it, for example researchers, practitioners,
policy makers or service users?
 How can we ensure that definitions are inclusive?
 What assumptions are made about the adversity that
people in transition may have faced or be facing?
 Situations which may be experienced as adverse or
negative by some people may be perceived as relatively
positive or less challenging for others
 e.g. living in homeless accommodation could be
described as living in adverse conditions or as a positive
improvement there was abuse in the family home.
 It is often at times of transition that young people who
have experienced adversity are able to display an ability
to problem solve or at least be encouraged to learn this
skill (Newman, 2004).
What is well-being?
 What factors combine to give a feeling of well-being?
 Who defines it?
 Is it about coping or thriving?
 How can it be measured?
 There can be different aspirations
 e.g. for children who have suffered significant abuse or
neglect it may be more about their ability to cope or
function reasonably well than an expectation that they
will thrive (Kinard, 1998).
 a young person who has moved from a damaging family
or care situation and is able to survive in their own
tenancy may seem to be meeting a ‘well-being indicator’.
 Does being ‘less miserable than before’ equate with
 Capitalise on transition to make positive changes.
Further information
Evidence for practice
Accredited and short courses in
Child Welfare and Protection
Daniel, B., & Wassell, S. (2002). Assessing and Promoting Resilience
in Vulnerable Children I - III. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Gilligan, R. (1998). The importance of schools and teachers in child
welfare. Child and Family Social Work, 3(1), 13-26.
Gilligan, R. (1999). Enhancing the resilience of children and young
people in public care by mentoring their talents and interests.
Child and Family Social Work, 4(3), 187-196.
Gilligan, R. (2001). Promoting Resilience: A Resource Guide on
Working with Children in the Care System. London: BAAF.
Hill, M., Triseliotis, J., Borland, M., & Lambert, L. (1996). Outcomes
of social work intervention with young people. In M. Hill & J.
Aldgate (Eds.), Child Welfare Services: Developments in Law, Policy,
Practice and Research. London: Jessica Kingsley.
Luthar, S. S., & Zelazo, L. B. (2003). Resilience and Vulnerability:
Adaptation in the Context of Childhood Adversities. In S. Luthar
(Ed.), Resilience and Vulnerability. New York: Cambridge
University Place.
Masten, A. S., Best, K. M., & Garmezy, N. (1990). Resilience and
development: Contributions from the study of children who
overcome adversity. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 425-444.
Newman, T. (2004). What Works in Building Resilience. London:

Transitions and Resilience - The Institute for Research and