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Resilience and vulnerable children

Our natural outrage about child abuse drives us to develop ways of protecting children against abuse and neglect.

But a Professor of Social Work at the University of Dundee, Bridgit Daniel, argues that our sense of outrage gets in the way of providing the best means of helping children develop strategies for avoiding being abused, or to cope when abuse happens. She says that we become 'preoccupied with vulnerability, and that fails to honour and build on human qualities for survival.'

Her point is that, thanks to research into resilience and other areas of positive psychology, we now know what children need if they are to thrive, as well as the kind of nurturing of nurturing environments that promote healthy development.

In a lecture for the Centre for Confidence and Well-being she argued that we should also focus on a child's inner strengths and on the support factors they can obtain from their environment, rather than concentrating totally on protection and vulnerability. 

She proposed a simple grid (to see power-point slides click here) in which the first axis comprised extrinsic issues in a child's life, ranging from 'protective factors' to'adversity.  The second axis comprised intrinsic factors that affect a child's outcome, these range from 'vulnerability' to 'adversity'. 

The resulting grid enables practitioners to locate the different factors that may be affecting a child, then aim to identify and support any protective extrinsic resources, while nurturing the child's inner capacity to make use of resources. She lists three protective factors and three key resilience factors.

The three key protective factors (extrinsic) are: 
  • at least one secure attachment relationship
  • access to wider support, such as extended family and friends
  • positive experiences at nursery school or in the community

The three key resilience factors (intrinsic) are:
  • a sense of security, whereby the child feels a sense of belonging and of being loved
  • good self-esteem, an internal sense of worth and competence, along with a sense of the worth of others
  • self-efficacy, a sense of mastering control, along with an accurate understanding of personal strengths and limitations.
She has also drawn up a list of six areas of children's lives where social workers, teachers, medics and others with an interest in nurturing a child's resilience can intervene, or offer encouragement, to foster resilience in the child.

The six areas comprise:
  • Secure base - where the focus is on secure attachment relationships
  • Education - where school is a place, teachers are seen as people and learning is seen as a process
  • Friendship - where the ability to get on with peers is supported
  • Talents and interests - where opportunities to boost self esteem are nurtured
  • Positive values - where kindness to others is encouraged
  • Social competencies - where the ability to behave appropriately is developed.

In her lecture Professor Daniel maintains: 'We've been exploring the use of this framework with practitioners in local authorities and voluntary organisations, and with carers who are supporting children who have very difficult experiences.  We've found that practitioners appreciate the positive approach the concept of resilience offers.  They work in very challenging situations and can sometimes lose sight of the positive things that they can do to help children thrive.  The approach also provides the theoretical basis to underpin the creative work they're already doing. Working to increase childre's resilience offers workers hope for these children's futures.'

Copyright: Centre for Confidence and Well-being 


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