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Resilience in spite of evidence of the traumatic impact of neglect is In the Spotlight

by PeakCare Qld on 6th October 2016

Home -> Articles -> 2016 -> October -> Resilience in spite of evidence of the traumatic impact of neglect is In the Spotlight

When faced with overwhelming knowledge and research about the impact of neglect on a child or young person, it is easy to become despondent about the possibility of positive outcomes. Yet so much of what we know about resilience demonstrates the capacity of children and young people to overcome trauma and hardship. What is it that turns their forecast life trajectory around and demonstrates instead their capacity for resilience and building a positive life with the opportunity for holistic wellbeing? This question has been at the heart of child protection practice and research for decades. Whilst it has been posed in various ways and researched through a multitude of avenues, the answers whilst far from simple, are often similar.

At the recent Association of Children’s Welfare Agencies (ACWA) conference in August, Professor Brigid Daniel of Scotland’s University of Sterling spoke of the challenges of child protection in responding to neglect both through her keynote address and master class. She also spoke to the importance of building resilience.

Professor Daniel mentioned the complexity of child protection in the Australian context of navigating Federal and State systems, with attention drawn, in particular, to the variations in what is deemed as neglect as defined by their respective policies and practices. She noted Minty’s 2005 quote that it is: “The air some children have to breathe.” She then summarised neglect as essentially unmet need. “It can impact development in all domains of a child’s life. It requires looking at wider issues such as social, community neglect, poor housing and poor resources for children”.

Broadly speaking neglect is not merely the omission of care but one parent or two parents parenting under difficult circumstances. Neglect, Professional Daniel argues, is the most damaging of childhood experiences. She notes neglect as encompassing medical, nutritional, emotional, educational and physical factors that also include a lack of supervision and guidance.

Professor Daniel also notes cumulative harm as a significant factor in identifying and responding to neglect whilst acknowledging that the United Kingdom has learned from Australian practice and research in this regard. Accumulation of a single adverse circumstance repeated or by multiple different circumstances and events is the unremitting accumulation that occurs over life (Bromfield and Miller 2007).

A key complexity of identifying and responding to neglect is that different professionals and para professional groups interpret neglect in various ways. Perceptions of neglect are affected by personal and professional values. Judgements about others’ parenting are politically, personally and socially charged.

We need to look at the past, present, micro relationships and all of the different layers argues Daniel. Neglect needs to be dealt with by multi-disciplinary teams with quality supervision being a significant requirement in doing so.

Professor Daniel bridges the problem of neglect with the hope of resilience through her research. In doing so, she offers a foundation for intervention in what she deems the most problematic arena of child abuse.

“Resilience is a phenomenon or process reflecting relatively positive adaptation despite experiences of adversity or trauma” asserts Professor Daniel as she quotes Luthar, 2005. She further adds that in Scotland resilience has been built into the national framework – Getting it Right for Every Child.

Professor Daniel states that a child or young person is more likely to develop resilience if she/he has:

  • a sense of security that comes from positive attachment as well as relationships and access to extended family and community support
  • appreciation of his or her own worth and the worth of others that is associated with positive self esteem
  • the sense of mastery and insight into personal strengths and limitations that leads to high self-efficacy

Ultimately knowing that “I have people who love me” is key to resilience and wellbeing says Professional Daniel. In terms of building resilience, the foundations in infancy include developing secure attachments, early communication and language development, beginning to understand ‘self’ and ‘other’ and building a basis for social competence through peer relationships and wider activities outside of the home. With regard to resilience in adolescence, attachments remain important.

Overarching positive contributions of resilience include being cognisant that children and young people need to know what they have and who they are. This includes supporting the development of positive values such as conscience, empathy and kindness which includes both cognitive, emotional and behavioural aspects. Supporting the development of healthy self-esteem is essential. Such self-worth needs to include an appreciation of others.

In working towards the resilience of children and young people, the support of parents and links between home and educational environments is important. So too are links with community resources.

Children and young people benefit significantly from being part of something ‘bigger’ than themselves. This includes the acknowledgement of competencies, autonomy, problem solving, talents and interests.

The key resilience domains, Professor Daniel argues, are social competencies, a secure base, education, friendships, talents and interests, positive values and kindness to others. Strategies and interventions to assist children and young people in these areas are important. So too are interventions to assist children and young people who have experienced harm in dealing with their pain based behaviours. Engaging in fun activities with children and young people is essential.

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