Education/teachers, Foster care, High Risk Adolescents, Residential Care

Resilience Part II: How practitioners can improve resilience of young people in OoHC/YJ

This week’s blog continues the focus on influential child psychiatrist, Michael Rutter – this time his work on resilience. The last blog post defined ‘resilience’ and identified the underlying factors that give rise to resilience. Today, we will investigate how resilience might develop – especially in young people in OoHC and YJ settings.

Firstly, Rutter notes that the research findings do not translate into a clear program for improving resilience but rather provide some leads on what should be done. Moreover, I am only reviewing those aspects that are relevant to young people in OoHC and YJ settings. Thus, for example, I am not covering gene-environment issues.

The psychological attributes that underpin resilience are planning, self-reflection and active personal agency. How might we develop these attributes in potentially at-risk populations?

Schools, especially alternative schools, provide an ideal opportunity for young people to develop resilience and can provide a ‘knifing off’ point (as discussed in the last blog entry) plus a range of activities that might be able to assist YP in their home environments.

Rutter makes two broad recommendations. Firstly, to provide activities that give YP the opportunity to develop such skills via experiential learning rather than more formal, didactic instruction. This implies that resilience should not be taught as a stand-alone curriculum, say as part of the well-being curriculum, or in a psycho-educational format.  Rather, it is best taught via experiential components of other school activities.

Secondly, professionals need to be careful not to de-skill YP by doing too much of the planning and/or decision making associated with the activities. Resilience can be learned from failures as well as successes. However, practitioners need to balance the risk of failure or being exposed to stress with duty-of-care responsibilities.maxresdefault

How might Practitioners process experiential activities?


You have decided to take a group of disadvantage/traumatized YP on a kayaking trip. Prior to the trip, the YP practice the Eskimo roll in calm waters. When YP successfully master the skill, they will typically experience the natural rush of success. Staff are then tempted to praise the achievement. However, accolades for a mastering the Eskimo roll will probably not develop resilience. To accomplish this, we need to make conscious to the YP the underlying skills (i.e. planning, self-reflection and personal agency) that lead to mastering the skill. I have attempted to illustrate the process in the following, highly stylized, example.

In this example, a YP has attempted the Eskimo roll but been unsuccessful. A staff member is talking to the YP with the view to develop resilience.

Speaker Dialogue Comment
Staff Just before you attempted the roll, what was going through your mind? Open question that ‘pulls’ for planning/self-reflection/personal agency skills
YP  Well I was a bit scared. I thought I might get trapped underwater.
Staff  Yeah, that would be scary. What did you do to manage that fear? Open question to further explore use of the skills
YP Well I realized that it was no different to ducking under a wave at the beach and I loved doing that. Anyway, I thought if [another YP] could do it then I could do it as well.
Staff  Sounds like you have confidence in yourself to overcome your fear or to solve problems. Reinforces YP sense of agency and self-reflection
YP  I guess so…
Staff Well, how come you couldn’t get the roll right? What do you think went wrong? Open question to prompt self-reflection
YP I’m not sure. I lost the paddle for a start. I think my first instinct was to get out of the kayak because I was in the water, but I should have stayed in the kayak.
Staff So, if you could remain in the kayak, what should you do next time? Open question to prompt self-agency
YP I think I have to lean forward whilst underwater etc. etc.
Staff Yeah, that sounds about right. You certainly can analyze what you have done wrong and work out what needs to be done.

I also noticed that you are very motivated to do better.

Reinforces self-agency etc.



About graemembaird

I am a psychologist with a special interest in improving the outcomes of families, children and young people in the Out of Home Care and Juvenile Justice systems.
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