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Resiliency Information
Resiliency Information
This section provides a brief overview of the resiliency research, a description of the Seven Keys to Resiliency® and links to additional resiliency websites.
What is Resiliency?

At the beginning of the 21st century rapid changes are profoundly impacting people of all ages, socio-economic groups and religious and cultural backgrounds. A growing number of urban and rural communities across North America are facing serious health and social problems, economic downturns and environmental challenges. Increasing rates of divorce and family break-ups, rising levels of poverty and the growing number of child abuse reports are examples of the serious social issues facing today’s children and youth. Ongoing changes in technology, economics, politics and the pervasive influence of television and the media are also presenting new challenges. More recently there are new fears about threats of terrorism in our towns and cities.

These adversities are resulting in greater risks to children’s health, education and social functioning (school failure, teen pregnancy, stress, suicide, dramatic rise in childhood obesity, substance abuse, crime and violence). Unfortunately, these challenges are occurring at a time when funding for mental health programs, social services and education are being dramatically reduced by various levels of government. A National Crime Prevention Council report (1996) stated, “The evidence is conclusive that the most effective way to prevent crime is to ensure healthier children, stronger families, better schools and more cohesive communities. Crime prevention through social development is a sound investment.”

During the 1970’s and 1980’s, child development researchers from the United States, Canada and other countries, using statistical models drawn from public health and epidemiology, created a method of cataloguing a score of risk factors that increased a child’s chances of becoming a delinquent, a drug addict or mentally ill. While these researchers used different methods and examined children from across different ages, cultures, ethnic groups and geographic areas, their findings were remarkably similar. The factors that placed children at serious physical, psychological and social risk were identified as those associated with war, poverty, natural disasters, disease, violence, chronic abuse and/or growing up in transient, alcoholic or dysfunctional families. The researchers also observed that the function of these risk factors were geometric, not linear. In other words, the more risk factors a child was exposed to, the odds that the same child would encounter serious problems later in life increased exponentially. Whether the stressful experiences as described above crushed or strengthened the child, in large part, depended upon his or her levels of personal resiliency and available social supports from the home, school and community.

The research on resilient children had been initiated to find effective strategies to protect high-risk children from their harsh environments. In the course of studying at risk children, researchers observed a phenomena that puzzled them and began to turn their previous pre-occupation with pathology to one of prevention. Many children who were predicted to fail, in fact not only survived but thrived in spite of their negative risk factors. At present there is a growing respect for the complexity of the processes that also positively influence the course of human development. It is important to remember that children live multifaceted lives within multiple and overlapping systems, including the family, school, peer groups, religious and community organizations. Paralleling the increased levels of social and psychological problems of youth and adults during the last 10 years has been a move toward the development of prevention programs that build health, competence and resilience and away from a focus on dysfunction, mental illness and disease.

Resiliency research has greatly expanded the current focus of social and behavioral sciences to include not just risk, deficit and illness, but also what resiliency researchers Drs. Emmy Werner and Ruth Smith have described as self-righting capacities. These capacities are the strengths that people, families, schools and communities can call upon to promote health, well-being and healing. Psychiatrist Dr. Michael Rutter from the University of London (1997) has stressed the dynamic quality of resilience and notes that, “not only has there been a shift of focus from vulnerability to resilience, but also from risk variables to negotiating risk situations.”

Resilience appears to be a universal and innate human capacity, which can empower a child, adult, family, group, community or business organization to prevent, minimize or overcome the damaging effects of adversity. Masten and Coatsworth (1998) define resilience as “manifested competency in the context of significant challenges to adaptation or development.” While situations which place individuals at risk for impaired functioning may be limitless, research on resiliency has been remarkably consistent over the last several years. The research conclusively points to particular psychological factors and environmental conditions that are associated with competence and improved psycho-social functioning during and following negative life experiences.

The Search Institute, a non-profit research organization based in Minneapolis, MN. has specialized in the study of youth issues for over two decades. During the 1990’s, the Institute’s research identified 40 psycho-social assets that contributed to children’s health and well-being from surveys conducted on 350,000 public education students in the sixth to twelfth grades. This compelling study has helped to support and underscore the importance of developing both the internal protective factors (traits, beliefs, attitudes, knowledge and skills) and the external protective factors (family, school and community support systems) that will produce highly resilient, fully functional, healthy children and teens. This information is not just important when working with high risk youth, but it also has positive implications for all children and adults, regardless of the level or degree of risk factors that may be present in their lives.

Protective factors are described in other resiliency research as playing a key role in the processes involved in people’s positive response to high risk circumstances. Pioneering resiliency researchers Dr. Emmy Werner, Dr. Steven Wolin, Dr. Norman Garmezy, Bonnie Benard, Dr. Paul Steinhauer and Dr. Fraser Mustard have concluded, from conducting and reviewing several longitudinal studies in the United States and Canada, that a larger percentage of people who had been predicted to succumb to various personal and/or environmental risk factors actually defied the odds and went on to live very healthy, productive and responsible lives.

Research data from the 1990’s through to the present suggest that what we now understand to be resilience is actually an interactive and systematic phenomenon. It is the product of a complex relationship of specific psychological inner strengths and environmental social supports throughout a person’s life that determines their response to adversity. Resiliency springs from within and is also integrated with the quality of relationships and positive experiences that help people of all ages acquire hope, motivation, mastery, values and a sense of purpose. Developing resiliency is now recognized as a vitally important requirement for the health and well-being of everyone.

The crises that a growing number of children in North America experience within their families, schools and the larger community have the potential to discourage and overwhelm them. Resiliency research has conclusively proven the human capacity to face, overcome and ultimately be strengthened and even transformed by life’s adversities and challenges. While external support services are important for helping in these times of trouble, they may be insufficient to successfully resolve the adversities. Therefore, children and youth require specific instruction and support from parents, teachers and other responsible adults to learn new cognitive, emotional and social skills. In addition to receiving the basic necessities of life (food, water, shelter and physical safety), children also need love, trust, hope, autonomy, confidence in their abilities and an opportunity to contribute meaningfully to the world. How parents, teachers and other caregivers perceive and interact with children and youth will ultimately determine whether their innate resilience will be promoted or destroyed.

As we enter a new millennium, it is almost certain that everyone will face adversity of some kind given the rapid rate of change. No one will be exempt. With resilience, children and adults can triumph over adversity; without it, personal traumas, changes and challenges may win. The protective factors identified in the resiliency research are the most powerful resources available to combat the challenges of living in a rapidly changing world. Caring and knowledgeable adults can now help children and youth acquire the inner strengths and develop the external support systems that will help them become healthy, responsible and resilient young people.

Chris B. Rush, a professional educator, Registered Clinical Counsellor and the founding President of the Resiliency Institute, recently completed a meta-analysis of the research on resilient children and families conducted during the past 20 years in the USA, Canada and in several other countries. The result was the creation of a dynamic new model of human empowerment entitled: The Seven Keys to Resiliency®. The Seven Keys model incorporates all of the protective factors identified in the resiliency research and provides the foundation for several training programs, seminars and educational materials available from the Resiliency Institute.

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