Great Summary of Research on Preventing Children’s Problems


This 1991 paper “Fostering Resiliency in Kids: Protective Factors in the Family, School and Community” by Bonnie Benard of the
University of Minnesota, does a great service:  It frames up decades of research studies on what “protects” children from negative behaviors and outcomes.  It poses a very valuable way of understanding what the child, the family, the school and the community contribute to resilience.  It is well worth reading.  Here are just a few insights from it.

Taking a System Perspective

“If a child’s major risks lie in the family system, such as growing up in an alcoholic, abusive, or schizophrenic home, many of the factors identified as protective will derive from the school or community environments. Likewise, when a child’s major
risks come from the community system–usually the condition of living in poverty as over one- fourth of the children in the United States now do– protective factor research has usually examined the role that the family and school systems play in the development of resiliency”

Maximizing resiliency in youth requires building the traits listed above in children, families, schools and communities:  “It is only at this intersystem level–and only through intersystem collaboration within our communities–that we can build a broad enough, intense enough network of protection for all children and families.”

teacher asian sqBut then again:  All it Takes Is One Person

“Intervention may be conceived as an attempt to shift the balance from vulnerability to resilience, either by decreasing exposure to risk factors and stressful life events, or by increasing the number of available protective factors in the lives of vulnerable children” (Werner, 1990). Shifting the balance or tipping the scales from vulnerability to resilience may happen as a result of one person or one opportunity. As we have seen in this review, individuals who have succeeded in spite of adverse environmental conditions in their families, schools, and/or communities have often done so because of the presence of environmental support in the form of one family member, one teacher, one school, one community person that encouraged their success and welcomed their participation.”

Brief  Outline of Some of the Research Discussed

The Characteristics of the Resilient Child

    • Social Competence:  Sense of Humor, flexibility, empathy
    • Problem solving skills
    • Autonomy.   “A sense of one’s own identity and an ability to act independently and exert some control over one’s environment.”
    • Sense of Purpose and Future

The Family Characteristics that Build Resilience

    • Caring and Support.  The “enduring loving involvement of one or more adults in care and joint activity with that child”
    • High Expectations
    • Family Encourages Children’s Participation.  Many opportunities for the children to participate and contribute in meaningful ways.

“family environments with these characteristics provide the fertile soil for the growth and nurturing of that sense of basic trust and coherence essential for human development and, therefore, for the development of the traits of resiliency: social competence, problem-solving skills, autonomy, and a sense of purpose.”

The School Characteristics that Build Resilience

    • Caring and Support.  Opportunities to develop caring relationships with both adults and other youth
    • High Expectations. “the expectation among staff, parents, and the students themselves that they are capable of high achievement”
    • Youth Participation and Involvement.   e.g., “[A] study discovered that when children from an impoverished inner-city environment were given the opportunities to plan and make decisions in their preschool environment, they were at the age of 19 significantly less (as much as 50 percent less!) involved in drug use, delinquency, teen pregnancy, school failure, etc. (Berrueta- Clement et al, 1984; Schweinhart et al, 1986)”

The Community Characteristics that Build Resilience

    • Caring and Support.  ” The clear finding from years of research into crime, delinquency, child abuse, etc. is that communities and neighborhoods rich in social networks–both peer groups and intergenerational relationships–have lower rates of these problems (Garbarino, 1980; Miller and Ohlin, 1985).”
    • High Expectations
    • Opportunities for Participation.  “society tells children and youth that “they have no real place in the scheme of things, that their only responsibility is to go to school and learn and grow up. [ed.] The young people, therefore, view themselves as strictly consumers, not as contributors” D. Hedin 1987

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