What resilience means to children and young people
Anthony Douglas, Chief Executive
This year’s much awaited Family Justice Young People’s Board Conference in Manchester is majoring on resilience, in particular what resilience means to children and young people. One reason that resilience is so important is that pressure, difficulty and frustration is a fact of daily life, not just an occasional event or incident. Becoming more resilient at dealing with daily hassles can also help you deal with the really big problems that come along.
Many children and young people we work with at Cafcass have been traumatised, either at home or in the community. For some this will be a complete shock and outside their normal experience. Others will have been pre-wired to expect something bad to happen, through many adverse life experiences. To reverse that expectation can take years of reliable therapeutic parenting from a main carer or carers. It is crucial in our work to make sure that children can receive this type of restorative parenting if they are to have a chance of recovery.
Children’s resilience can be developed in many ways. They can be calmed down when they get stressed, rather than being wound up – this applies to all of us! They can be helped to understand what is abusive within relationships. This knowledge can help safeguard them against developing these damaging behaviours themselves and also to develop strategies for keeping themselves safe in situations where they may experience abuse, or if it continues even after professional agencies have sought to intervene. It often helps children to talk this through without being told what to do, unless they are asking the adults around them to be supportive by being directive. Often, children need to return to the same issue more than once – we all do. Often the choices they face are not straightforward. This is building resilience by building confidence, as you do with a baby or a toddler you help to crawl or to walk, or a slightly older child you help to talk and read.
It is just as important to help teenagers become resilient as it is with much younger children. Help can often be by staying in the same space with the young person while they work something out. Of course, parents do this all the time, it is just that it is needed even more during times of stress, family breakdown or when a child comes into care. These are often traumatic events coming on top of a history of trauma, a compounded trauma if you like. I am always amazed at how resilient many children are, after years of trauma, when they start to feel better after just a few days of therapeutic caring. That should give them, and us, hope. Lots of children make it through the most appalling situations, others of course may struggle for years or for the rest of their life. Building resilience can make the difference between one outcome and another.
Helping children to become more resilient is rarely written into care plans or court recommendations but it is one of the best ways a child or young person can be helped by family members and professionals.