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Resilience and How One Can Promote Resilience

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Many of the young people we work with on a daily basis have been confronted with adverse things throughout their childhood such as, separation, loss, trauma, neglect abuse and disturbances in the attachment process. How a child overcomes these issues can often reflect the level of resilience that the child may have internalized. Children that have been met with this adversity can all too often feel unloved, unworthy, insecure, rejection, have very low self-esteem and a lack of trust in the adult world. (Lowenthal, 1999). Caregivers can provide these young children with the care, stability and nurturance they need to recover from such events. As the above quote states a resilient person will possibly have better outcomes. Therefore, the concept of resilience and the factors that strengthen it are relevant to social care workers as it gives ingredients that one can utilize as a way of meeting the needs and enhancing the quality of life to a young person in their care.

Throughout, the following assignment the author will firstly give a definition of resilience and discuss its relevance in the social care field today. Following on, two examples will be given, in which the theory and framework of resilience was used in meeting the needs of the young people, which in return given them a better outcome in life. There are many definitions of resilience, all with similar components. In general, it refers to a person who can recover from psychological harm caused by adversity, and has the ability to regain to an appropriate level of functioning (De Civita, 2000). Interestingly, a dictionary definition is to “spring back after been bent out of shape” (De Civita, 2000).Resilience is a child’s healing power to deal with daily experiences and different social networks. The more resilient a child is, the less likely they are to have major emotional or behavioural problems in life, as they find it easier to overcome adversities (Gilligan, 2001).

Many authors regard resilience as a mixture of nurture and nature, stating that certain traits children are born with are associated with children been resilient; traits include good intellectual abilities and a placid, cheerful temperament. In contrast to this, premature babies, who cry and cannot be comforted, or those that will not accept being held, have an increased vulnerability to adversity and are less likely to be resilient. However, there are a number of virtues associated with resilience which develop through a child’s life – the main are as follows: A good self esteem, a belief in one’s own self-efficacy, Initiative, Belief in oneself (Daniel, Wassell and Gilligan 1999). Furthermore it develops, Trust in other persons, a sense of secure base ,a meaningful role in life, self- Identity:, and finally humour, which is powerful tool in enabling the young person to detach themselves from, thus, reducing emotional pain and it may help with developing and sustaining relationships.

Resilience Approach is particularly relevant in the Social care field as the approach implies that we can learn from the young people that have positive outcomes following exposure to adversity, identify why this occurred and extend to other children the features that helped with this process. The resilience methodology seeks to build on strengths and strengthen the supports and opportunities of the child. Resilience plays a vital role in assisting a child in settling into a new placement, without experiencing major emotional difficulties. Three factors that promote resilience are secure base, Self-esteem and Self-efficacy(Grotberg, 2000). These can be influenced by positive experiences on a daily basis, some which will be highlighted throughout the assignment.

Resilience in an individual refers to successful adaptation, despite the risk and adversity. The manner in which Matson 2004 defines resilience is very clear to me, as I can relate and reflect this to one particular girl that resided in the care centre I worked. Throughout the young girl’s childhood, she developed an insecure and ambivalent attachment to both her parents, as a result of their hectic lifestyle of substance misuse. At a young age her father died from the HIV viruses, which lead her mother in becoming depressed and profoundly dependant on drugs. Due to the mother’s dependency, she was unable to respond accordingly to the girls needs, given very mixed and inconsistent responses. At the age of 10, due to extreme neglect, the young girl was removed from her mothers care and entered the care setting. Over the years the young girl had experienced several placement breakdowns, and at 13 was admitted to a residential centre. During this time she felt both a rejection and loss from the adults in her life, therefore finding it difficult to trust others.

It is with no surprise, the young girl internalised these feelings, thus considering herself unlovable and not worthy of others care and affection, this having huge impact on her self -esteem. In a conversation, at the age of 16, regarding her mother she stated that she had accepted her mother was a drug user, and that although her mother loved her, her drug use prevented her from being able to care for her. She explained that she believed her mother would always be dependent on drugs and that they would always feature in her mother’s life. She said that she was not going to fight this anymore, but rather accept it, accept her mother and focus on the positive elements of their relationship and ultimately move on from her past and look forward to her future and control her own destiny. She thanked staff for their ongoing support and also stated that through life story work she done with her key worker, she was able to accept of her mother’s situation and form a positive outlook on her own life.

All staff employed at the unit where trained in Resillience theory ,therefore Placement plans are geared toward promomting ‘protective factors( appropriate family involvement, improved self esteem/self-image, community involvement, positive peer relationships, social networks) and reducing ‘risk factors’ in a young person’s environment. All work done endeavoured, the building of resilience, hence, developing, a secure base, Self-esteem and Self-efficacy. The staff team promoted protective factors by introducing a variety of factors such as strong social networks and introducing at least one unconditional supportive caregiver (keyworker) to her, and through life story work helped the girl re-frame adversities ,so that the beneficial effects as well as the damaging effects where recognised.

The team understood the importance of social networks and familiy involvement, therefore maintained links with the family and consistantly promoted these connections. Along with the above, huge work was done by following and implementing the framework of social support. Social care practitioners utilized this method by applying the eight forms of social support as distinguished by Rosenfeld and Hardy (1993),which was to provide listening support (just listening, not advising or judging); emotional support; emotional challenge (helping the child evaluate his or her attitudes, values and feelings); reality confirmation support (sharing the child’s perception of the world); task appreciation support; task challenge support (challenging, stretching, motivating); tangible assistance support (pocket money or gifts); and personal assistance support (e.g. driving the child perhaps to access).

In this instance the framework used by the unit was entirely successful. Despite, this girls experience her personal resources proved to be great, and these combined with, the team’s ongoing effort of building on her level of resilience, her ability to reflect on life, her experience of latter trusting/ caring relationships and her evident resilience resulted in her moving forward with positive outcomes. The levels of her resilience is reflected by her forming opinion of her own situation, and reflect her ability to accept, move forward and assume responsibility for her own success, rather then succumb to her own life experiences.

In my current place of practice, a young boy of traveller background has been recently admitted to our care. *David’s family has been known to the Health board for a number of years. Prior to coming into care, David lived with his family on a North side halting site. Social work history reports indicate that his family environment was abusive in many ways, David was neglected of love, stability, opportunities and exposed to severe violence, he was left to his own devices on a daily basis which resulted in him displaying extreme negative behaviour, experimenting in petrol sniffing and poor school attendance. Ironically, although David had a poor attendance record at school, school reports suggests David has an academic ability beyond what he is showing. When first taken into care, David was placed into foster. Things went well initially, – However, David began to link in with old friends often staying out all night – and returning in an unkempt state the next day When challenged on this by his foster carers, David would become verbally abusive/aggressive.

The foster placement eventually ended when David assaulted his foster father. David was placed in residential care and went through a number of placements within a very short space of time. David’s behaviour worsened as a result and unfortunately, a breakdown in school placement. Eventually, David was placed in a house on his own, staffed on an on-going basis by a team of well built male psychiatric nurses, whom where working merely on containing David, therefore David’s basic needs continued to be ignored, hence having major impact on life’s development. David’s self- esteem and self-efficacy was affected, along with internalising negative feelings of oneself. Fortunately, David’s social worker along with the HSE recognised this default and felt that David was not receiving the appropriate level of care, a child is entitled too. Consequently, introducing a team, (including the author), of child focused, social care practitioners to David’s life.

The team devised and agreed on a framework that would be of relevance to working and caring for David. An intensive, individualised programme of care was introduced to ensure the young persons physical, emotional, social, educational, spiritual and cognitive needs where met. As David has had a negative experience in the care setting, we taught it was best to aim on working within a positive based framework. Therefore, we operate from an integrated model of care, incorporating Resilience theory; Strengths based perspective and Social pedagogic theory. A strengths based framework has the key advantage of promoting a child’s sense of self worth and self-belief, even in the most difficult of circumstances. Drawing on a child’s strengths serves to empower the child and allows them to understand their own abilities to manage and control their difficult behaviour.

As I previously mentioned it was reported that David has a good academic ability, this was clearly a great strength to work on as Borland et al (1998) once stated that’ Schooling may be vital in enabling children to make the best of adverse circumstances like being in care, both through offering opportunities for academic success to compensate for the “failure” in family life and in affording access to alternative supporting relationships – with teachers and with peers, schools also offer opportunities for children to learn coping styles and gain a sense of self worth’. Similarly Gilligan defines schooling as “an environment rich with potential relationships and opportunities to stimulate the social and academic development of the student. One of the challenges is ensuring that all the stakeholders remain alert to the range of people and roles offering potential educational supports within and without the school’ (Gilligan, 2004:33). As schooling clearly has a vital role in building resilience, we as social care practitioners need to promote this importance.

This was utilised in practice by shown an interest in all aspects of David’s school life, communicating reasonable expectations with regards to his educational performances, developing links with the school and prioritize continuity of school and schooling. To date, although, its early days’, working on this strength to promote and build on David’s resilience has been a great turning point in David’s life. He is now attending school on a regular basis, has developed positive peer relationships within the classroom and part-taken in extra curricular activities after school. With these positive outcomes arising in David’s life, he is now developing appropriate social skills, building self-esteem and self-efficacy and establishing interests and hobbies which he never had the opportunity to do.

In conclusion, a variety of ways in which social care practitioners can utilize the theories and frameworks of resilience has been discussed. An explanation, of its relevance in the field of social care is given. One would wonder how a child that experienced such adversities could have any positive outcomes, but they do. And the author has given clear case studies, in which the above frameworks have proven to be a success, with both young people achieving positive outcomes. The assignment highlighted that introducing and adapting a resilience perspective in a place of work can enhance the opportunity of developing positive pathways in life. One must remember that resilience is made up through a number of factors, but no one factor is enough on its own to deal with life’s adversities.


Borland, M. Pearson, C. Hill, M. Tisdall, K. and Bloomfield, I. (1998) _Education and_ _care away from home_, SCRE

Daniel, B., Wassell, S. and Gilligan, R., (1999) _Child development for child care and protection workers,_ Jessica Kingsley

Gilligan, R. (2000) _Adversity, resilience and young people: the protective value of positive school and spare time experiences, Children and Society_, Vol 14 (1), 37-47

Gilligan, R. (2001) _Promoting resilience: a resource guide on working with children in the care system_, BAAF

Grotberg, E. (1997) _A guide to promoting resilience in children: strengthening the human spirit_, Bernard Van Leer Foundation,

Masten, A. S. (1994). _”Resilience in individual development: Successful adaptation despite risk and adversity”_. In Wang, M. C. and Gordon, G. W. (Eds.) Educational resilience in inner-city America. Hillsdale, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

Journals ???

De Civita, M. (2000). Reclaiming Children and Youth_: Promoting Resilience a vision of care._ 76- 78, 83

Lowenthall, B. (1999). Childhood Education: _Effects of maltreatment and ways to promote children’s resiliency_.

Quyen Q. Tiet, Hector R. Bird, Mark Davies, Christina Hoven, Patricia Cohen, Peter

S. Jensen and Sherryl Goodman (1998). Journal of the American Academy of Child: _ADVERSE LIFE EVENTS AND RESILIENCE_

Matson 1994).

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