Communities and neighbourhoods with high levels of social cohesion, lots of social networks (including those involving different age groups) have lower rates of crime, delinquency and child abuse. Similarly, social support from people like neighbours, friends, other helpers, community health workers etc all help develop resilience and a reduction in social problems.
Engagement by young single mothers with other young families in informal networks, supporting each other and their children, prevents social isolation and is the critical factor in determining a beneficial or adverse outcome for the mother-child relationship, including the child's future propensity to alcohol or drug abuse.
The provision of social services, such as healthcare, childcare, housing, education, job training, employment, recreation facilities etc are clear demonstrations of care and support at the community level. These are also vital for healthy human development.
Other protective factors include:
Where young people are valued as members of the community and are seen as resources, rather than as problems, involvement in anti-social behaviour is lower. Adult attitudes, whether negative or positive, impact on how young people view their own communities.
Adult attitudes to the use and abuse of alcohol also has a major impact on young people. Countries where drunkenness is socially acceptable tend to have higher rates of alcohol abuse. If substance and alcohol abuse among young people are to be reduced, then adults need to reflect on their own consumption.
Opportunities for participation
When we see young people as resources, rather than as problems, the natural outcome is that opportunities are created for them to participate in the community. When young people are given responsibility for socially-useful tasks they develop self-esteem, can maintain complicated social relationships, their moral development is enhanced and they will tend to be more participative in politics.
When social participation is barred to them, research reveals that the results can be dire:
lack of participation is associated with rigid and simplistic relational strategies, psychological dependence on external sources for personal validation, and the expression of self-destructive and antisocial behaviors including drug abuse, depression, promiscuity, premature parenthood, suicide, and delinquency.( Kurth-Schai ,1988).
Traditional societies usually have clearly-defined roles for young people in terms of social or economic duties. As they get older they are expected to take on more responsibility within their community. We in the west have largely lost this means of gradually increasing the contribution of young people. Our challenge is to find ways of helping them play a bigger role in our communities, allowing them to serve, rather than treating them as potential social problems.
In her most recent book, 'Resilience: What We Have Learned' (2004), Benard gathers an enormous amount of research carried out by herself and others since her 1991 book. This work builds on her previous work, while retaining her emphasis on the importance of caring and support, setting high expectations, and creating opportunities for participation at home, at school and in the community. She concludes that it is essential that adults believe in the natural resilience of youth and their right to be viewed as valued members of the community.
It's a view shared by many researchers in resilience, including youth development expert Karen Pittman who advocates: 'A conceptual shift from thinking that youth problems are the principal barrier to youth development, to thinking that youth development is the most effective strategy for the prevention of youth problems.'