Bouncing back - Childrenâ€™s charities - Barnardo's and South Australia, and...
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Bouncing back: How can resilience be promoted in vulnerable children and young people?
By Jane Glover
This briefing is aimed at childrens services that use or wish to apply the concept of resilience to their work with vulnerable children and young people.
The briefing was conceived when research carried out by Barnardos Policy and Research Unit in early 2008 threw up more questions than answers about how resilience can be nurtured in practice. Responding to a survey, managers and practitioners in over 100 of Barnardos services questioned how resilience should correctly be defined; whether true resilience can be nurtured; how this can be done in a structured way; and how we can accurately measure what we have achieved.
This briefing addresses these issues and goes beyond the initial research. It looks at why resilience has become the buzz word in social care; it gathers tools and tips for promoting resilience from over 100 services across Barnardos; it summarises what makes for good practice in a project that aims to promote resilience using Barnardos Arch Project as an example; and it addresses the sticky issue of how we can measure outcomes.
Our thanks go to all the Barnardos services that contributed, and in particular to the staff at two Barnardos services the Arch Project and the Boness Project who gave so much of their valuable time. Also, to our co-collaborators on the original research project at the Universities of Edinburgh and South Australia, and particularly to Professor Brigid Daniel at Stirling University.
1 Due to space restrictions, this document provides detailed information about the Arch Project only, but please contact us if you would like to know more about our findings from the Boness Education and Family Support Service. Contact details for both projects are also provided at the end of this document and the service managers would welcome any enquiries.
2 Grotberg, E (1997) A guide to promoting resilience in children: strengthening the human spirit. Bernard van Leer Foundation. The Hague, p.7.
Researchers from Barnardos Policy and Research Unit surveyed a manager or a practitioner from 107 of Barnardos services across the UK. They then spent significant time at two of these services Arch in the Midlands and Boness in Scotland documenting the methods, tools and expertise, and gathering the opinions of managers, practitioners, children and families, and local health, education and social care professionals to build a detailed picture of how resilience is nurtured in practice.1
The survey results
Sixty three per cent of those surveyed told us that the concept of resilience is used explicitly in their work, and an additional 23 per cent use it implicitly. These respondents defined resilience in different ways, including: an inner strength; an ability; self-esteem; attachment; a genetic trait; and a skill.
Where the concept of resilience is used explicitly, Barnardos services are working across a wide variety of disciplines, the most common being: behavioural problems; abuse; bereavement; emotional issues; sexual exploitation; and sexually problematic behaviours. The range of settings also varied and included individual, outreach and group work as well as work that is school-based and community-based.
In their responses, managers and practitioners were enthusiastic about what they consider to be the positive and creative approach to practice that the concept of resilience facilitates. However, some of the respondents shared concerns
that they are unsure of the correct definition; do not know how to apply it appropriately in practice; or do not know how to measure it.
The survey also asked about resilience-based practice. And it was clear that this can mean different things to different people. The most common explanations described it as, identifying, assessing or focusing on a young persons current strengths, skills or talents; helping, encouraging or enabling a young person to develop their strengths, skills or talents; offering praise; enhancing coping strategies; building self-esteem; identifying goals; and building strong relationships.
The components of resilience
It is generally agreed that resilience is affected by the strengths of an individual, and of their family, as well as those of the community and the culture in which they live.
It is also accepted that resilience is madeup of a number of different elements the most well-known being self-esteem and attachment. It is probably fair to say that there is no true definition, but a well-known clinical definition is: the maintenance of competent functioning despite an interfering emotionality. The International Resilience Project which surveyed almost 600 11-year-old children across 30 countries describes resilience as: a universal capacity which allows a person, group or community to prevent, minimise or overcome the damaging effects of adversity.2
For the purposes of practice, it is helpful to focus on resilience in terms of the areas or domains of a childs life that can be manipulated or changed. A useful framework for describing this is provided by Brigid Daniel and Sally Wassell3 who split resilience into intrinsic and extrinsic factors.
The intrinsic factors are building blocks that are necessary for resilience:
n a secure base the child feels a sense of belonging and security
n a sense of self-efficacy a sense of mastery and control, along with an accurate understanding of personal strengths and limitations
n self-esteem an internal sense of worth and competence.4
The extrinsic factors are:
n at least one secure attachment relationship
n access to wider supports such as extended family and friends
n positive nursery, school and/or community experiences.
This building block framework provides a useful basis for informing assessments of children, and designing and implementing targeted interventions. A later section looks at how Barnardos Arch Project uses this framework to run a service that boosts resilience in five to 14-year-olds.
Rule of thumb
Based on current research and literature, Barnardos policy and research unit takes the view that there is no one correct approach to resilience based practice and that any, all, or a mixture of several approaches can be effective, provided that we try to stick to a basic rule of thumb.
The service must be clear which processes or factors of resilience it aims to foster or protect.5 This is particularly important to enable the service to develop an outcomes framework and to be confident that the work is effective. In agreeing which processes and factors of resilience are important, it is recommended that three things are considered:
1.Capacity How much time can be spent with the young person, both individually and within the context of their family and community?
Although we know that resilience is associated with the strengths of the individual, their family and the community in which they live, a service is rarely able to address all these factors. (A service which offers twice-weekly intensive support to a young person and their family may be able to address individual and family resilience, whereas one that sees a young person just once a week in a one-to-one session may prefer to focus on supporting that young person to develop self-efficacy through development of a housing or education plan).
Services can also take into account how their joined-up working with other services can add to the factors of resilience that are addressed.
.Relevance The different elements of resilience that are focused on should be those that are known to be important and relevant to the young person.
.Using evidence The approach that is decided upon should be evidence-informed (developed using current theory and the best available evidence). The Arch Project example used in this briefing is an example of how an evidence-informed approach can be used to boost resilience.
3 Daniel, B and Wassell, S (2002) The School Years: Assessing and Promoting Resilience in Vulnerable Children. Jessica Kingsley Publishing, London.
4 It should be emphasised here that good self-esteem rarely (if ever) develops in a vacuum, and services working to boost self-esteem in young people must therefore focus on the contributing factors such as enabling young people to develop their talents, or master new skills.
5 For many years different authors have laid claim to having identified the elusive processes or factors of resilience or those associated with resilience and these have included, but are by no means limited to: self-efficacy, an internal locus of control, being sociable, being independent, having a sense of humour, having hobbies, a willingness and capacity to plan, a close bond with one other person, being nurtured, having responsibility, enjoying good school experiences, attachment and positive peer relationships.
The concept of resilience dates back to the Second World War when clinicians noted that some evacuated children appeared to suffer more psychological damage than those who stayed at home to face the bombing. A further seminal paper was produced by Margot Hicklin (1946)6 about the recoveries of 300 children brought to England in 1945 after their liberation from Nazi concentration camps Belsen, Buchenwald and Auschwitz. The concept has prospered and evolved over 50 years, and now informs and influences economics and politics at the highest levels.
Resilience is understood internationally as having the capacity to resist or bounce back following adversity and is generally considered to be made up of individual, family and community factors. In h