Youth Services Law

Resilience After Child Abuse

Mother and daughter hugging

One very important issue for youth-serving organizations is what factors help children recover from abuse or neglect. It is a complicated question, in part because children are at such varying developmental stages when they suffer maltreatment. A recent systematic review of several mental health studies offers possible factors that organizations can consider to help children overcome adverse experiences.

The review noted that there is no standard definition, with most people simply knowing resilience when they see it. What I found most interesting about the review, however, were the factors associated with resilience (however defined) at different ages. Of course, none of the studies measured causation, so it is difficult to know what factors actually can help children and which merely co-exist. Nevertheless, it cannot hurt to promote attributes that are positively associated with resilience. Some factors were associated with high resilience throughout a person’s life, such as family support, a positive family environment, and feelings of belonging to a community. Others seem to depend on the developmental stage of the child.

Only a few studies looked at resilience in children younger than 5, but the studies that exist indicate that caregiver warmth, emotional support, and cognitive stimulation were important predictors of resilience. For school-age children, the primary factors were parental engagement and prosocial behavior. Adolescents reported higher resilience when they also reported caregiver support, paternal acceptance, high engagement in school, and participation in sports and other extra-curricular activities.

To the extent that youth-serving organizations can provide opportunities to develop the attributes for their clientele, we may be able to increase resilience. Certainly we can encourage it. Some factors, such as caregiver emotional support, may be beyond our direct control, but we can find ways to encourage and support the family. Similarly, child care centers can provide cognitive stimulation and after-school programs that encourage prosocial behavior.

None of these is a perfect solution, but with some thought, we should be able to provide some help to our clients who have suffered maltreatment.

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