In this edition of the Children’s Research Digest the focus reflects the theme of our 2016 annual conference, ‘Building Resilience, Enhancing Social Support in the Lives of Children and Young People’. The decades immediately preceding and following the turn of the new millennium were largely concerned with mapping the interconnected harms children suffer as a result of poor parental care and degraded social environments. Recent years, however, have witnessed an increased concentration on what needs to be done to either prevent or ameliorate such harms to children. This has become especially important in the light of new evidence that demonstrates the physiological and psychological embedding of early adversity
with subsequent consequences for individuals cast over their life-course. This brings huge costs, both to the individuals concerned and to the societies in which they live. In such situations, it is important to attend to the protective factors that may act to buffer an individual from the negative impacts of adversity. Resilience is one such important protective factor and represents the ability to cope and/or adapt to adversity.
Resilience is, however, a somewhat problematic term, as it draws our attention not to the source of the adversities suffered by the individual (the focus of preventative efforts being to stop these occurring in first place), but rather to resources residing within the individual or in their familial and social environments (Ungar, 2013; Masten, 2014). Resilience, it is important to note, is not an exclusively individual trait but is influenced by the individual’s social and physical environment. There is therefore an acknowledgement implicit in the term that some adversities will be experienced, and may indeed be necessary for resilience to develop (Rutter et al., 2007; Siegler et al., 2014). Resilience requires a ‘balancing act’ in that it only develops in situations of controlled exposure to risk and adversity, which means that evading or preventing adversity completely may deprive individuals of building resilience (Seery, 2011). However too much stress and adversity can overwhelm an individual and have a negative impact on their health and well-being, depriving them of the potential benefits of resilience (Seery, 2011; Hu et al., 2015). Research faces the challenge of identifying this ‘perfect balance’ and the complex interactions between risk and protective factors for individuals to achieve it.
Our contributors to this edition of the Digest reflect a wide and varied approach to the challenges posed in creating evidence to inform and implement intervention strategies that have the effect of identifying and enhancing resilience in individuals or in their environments, from the familial through to the societal. Our own challenge, as editors, has been to find ways of organising these valuable contributions so as to make a Digest digestible! In the end, we have settled for a life course continuum in which contributions are ordered in ways that reflect stages of development, from the very early years, through school to adolescence and beyond. One of the advantages of this approach is to demonstrate that resilience building is not the preserve of early life interventions, but can be effective for individuals as they age, with each stage of our lives bringing different challenges requiring bespoke age and stage solutions.
We start this exploration into resilience and social supports by turning to research on the social supports for resilience in the early years of life. In “Promoting and supporting the health and well-being of Irish parents and their infants”, Ann Stokes et al. examine family demographics, parent characteristics, well-being and parenting experiences in a sample of Irish parents with young infants participating in the Area Based Childhood (ABC) Programme. The article is a summary of the baseline study of the evaluation of the Parent and Infant (PIN) Programme and provides insights into the experiences of parents living in disadvantaged areas. Geraldine Maughan then takes us through a study assessing the effectiveness of Marte Meo Therapy in treating attachment relationships. Marte Meo is a practical intervention that can assist with establishing, re-establishing and supporting attachments between caregivers and their children and thereby helps to build caregivers and children’s future resilience. Shirley Gillespie then guides us through the Toybox Programme developed for Traveller children, aged zero to four years. The programme proves effective in improving long term outcomes for Traveller children, namely that “children are healthy, eager and able to learn and make successful transitions”.
Before we turn to a focus on young people’s resilience, a number of articles examine resilience for children of all ages, focused not on age but on particular disadvantages such as disability and autism. Helen Lynch explores the role of outdoor playspaces in building resilience in children with a disability. At present, such children have especially poor access to outdoor playspaces and are therefore experiencing greater risks to their physical and mental health and well-being. Cross et al in turn present a transdisciplinary intervention programme and the effects this has had in building resilience in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder as they transition to adulthood.
We then turn to a variety of initiatives and research studies of resilience and social support for young people from a variety of backgrounds and with diverse experiences. Danika Sharek brings us through her research with transgender young people and their families through which she seeks to develop new educational tools by exploring families’ education needs. We stay in the area of education when we turn to Seana Friel’s research with higher education students with a care background through which we get a succinct insight into some of the issues faced by these students along with some of the factors that contribute to the young people’s educational resilience. We then get an interesting insight into the immense resilience that emerges through young people’s meaningful participation in the matters that affect their lives, including in a youth mental health organisation (Aoife Price) and Youth Civic Engagement (Sheila McArdle). Lorna Kerin et al in a similar vein show us the benefits to young people’s mental health resilience emerging from being offered a vehicle through which young people with the genetic disorder 22q11.2 Deletion Syndrome can communicate their lived experience and service recommendations to parents, educators, researchers, service providers and policy makers.
Finally, a series of short and digestible research summaries contribute further to our understanding of resilience and social support by taking us through the development of new instruments for assessment and offering summaries of and access to relevant evidence reviews. Several of the research summaries also give us greater insight into children’s resilience through a focus on well-being and children’s own narratives. We sincerely hope you enjoy this edition.
We would like to thank all authors and the reviewers for their contributions to this issue. Special thanks are also due to all who helped with proof reading and AAD for providing the design and layout. As something new in this edition, authors have been offered to make a contribution towards printing costs to facilitate greater distribution and dissemination of the Digest to appropriate audiences. We thank everyone who contributed.