Resilient children

Strategies are set out for enhancing children and family services and sets key priorities for social services, education, health and other partners in order to improve services for children at risk and families in most need, particularly those living in more socially disadvantaged, culturally and ethnically diverse communities. It also builds on measures of success in working together with parents and children to agree plans and partnerships which produce real results. The objectives link closely with those set out in the Green Paper “Every Child Matters”.

Children’s Trust policies will be a key vehicle in delivering local strategy, working closely with partners to ensure objectives are achieved.

The five key objectives of the strategy for consideration are: Protecting children from emotional, physical and sexual abuse and neglect; Promoting health and well being, ensuring healthy lifestyles, development of positive social skills and emotional resilience; Supporting achievement and enjoyment, development of skills and knowledge to enjoy childhood and facilitate social inclusion; Enabling participation and supporting responsible behaviour in the local community, economy, and services; Valuing diversity and confronting discrimination in relation to ethnicity, cultural background and ability/disability.

Preventative actions are seen as significant to improving the outcomes for children. The local councils and its partners are committed to redirecting resources to provide additional support for families and communities. It is recognised that cross linkages at the level of program planning and implementation and service delivery, will be vital to their effectiveness. A useful strategy adopts partnership building as its focus.

It recognises that there are practical things that government, families and communities can do, working together, to minimise risk for children and build resilience.

No government agency or non-governmental organisation, alone, can achieve outcomes for children and families, especially those with complex needs e.g. drug abuse, teenage pregnancy and parental risk factors such as depression. Consequently, there is a clear need to develop improved responses to children and to work with the community and the youth sector to develop a network that can better plan and deliver services (Home Office, 1998 pp. 2-3).

One could assume that early intervention services (National Health Services, Schools, Communities and Welfare Services) have the greatest impact when they are provided as part of a coordinated network. By facilitating integrated service responses, such as improved national and local case management arrangements, fewer children and their families will face acute problems. Proposals of increasing the range of recreational and developmental opportunities available in a given community also form an important element of a holistic response to the needs of children, young people and families in general.

The types of programs developed to address local needs will depend on existing programs and community strengths, what young people and their families want in their community e.g. home based help, care and support initiatives, information and support services and how services and others join together to make decisions and take action. A particular issue for local level planning is the increasing number of young people with multiple problems for instance, who are homeless with a mental health problem and a substance misuse problem, which are not able to obtain the help they need. Better coordination between local-level services providers and improvements to the service infrastructure in communities represents a sound starting-point for addressing these issues.

During the past 25 years, a number of researchers have completed longitudinal developmental studies of large groups of children growing up in community settings (Christchurch longitude study; Fergusson & Lynskey, 1996). Within these groups of children, many characteristics of the children and families were examined, and the life course of the child was charted into adulthood. These large studies contained hundreds of children with outcomes varying from successful to extremely poor. In looking at the characteristics of children with different outcomes, the researchers (Bowlby, J. 1951) have identified consistent risk factors which are often associated with the development of negative outcomes, such as school failure, psychiatric illness, multiple hospitalisation, criminal involvement, vocational instability, and poor social relationships later in life.

The risk factors repeatedly identified are Child; fetal drug/alcohol abuse, delinquency, academic failure, substance abuse, repeated aggression, medical disorders. Family Characteristics; Poverty, large family 4 or more children, parents with mental disorders, parent with criminality, parent with substance abuse. Family/experimental; Teenage pregnancies, poor infant attachment to mother, witness to extreme violence, sustained neglect, separation/divorce, single parent, sexual/physical abuse, the list continues far beyond these few named.

Risk factors do not invariably lead to problems in the lives of children, but rather increase the probability that such problems will arise. Interestingly the studies show that it is less significant which risk factors are present, but how many are present in life of a child. This suggests that when these risk factors accumulate in the life of a child, there is a tendency towards the whole range of negative outcomes, regardless of which specific risk factors are operative. It follows that the damaging effects of multiple risk factors apply across gender, race, culture and disability category. This is supported by studies in a variety of socioeconomic and demographic populations.

These survivors of risk are marked resilient children. In studying resilient children and their families, researchers are beginning to identify important features which seem to confer protection against the poor outcomes usually associated with living with many risk factors. These so called protective factors protect no matter what the child’s diagnosis, disability, or experiential risks. Studies also show that the greater the number of risk factors a child possesses the greater number of protective factors he or she needs to promote a positive outcome. Specific protective factors have been repeatedly identified by different studies of resilient children.

Phelps (1988) noted that protective factors seem to fall into three general categories: The quality of the child e.g. temperament, hopes and aspirations, education; Family characteristics such as secure mother/child attachment, relationship was parents, family life routine; Social support from outside agencies to consider support from school/church; support from parents employers; support from mentor for child /family.

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