Sunday, February 08, 2009

Day Two WCYFA - Resilience

Day two began with a Plenary about Resiliency with Kimberly Schonert/Reichl

My first question.. Bearing in mind the room was filled with Youth Workers. How many Youth Workers does it take to define Resilience? Punch line - 1 and 25 people to support them.

Ok, if you have a better punch line that (in some weird way) defines the essence of resilience, please send it to me.

And if you are offended by that, please don’t be, it may just be that it missed a lot in the translation from my head to the typed word.

Ok, we began the plenary with an exercise on gratitude. More accurately, our first task was to focus on something we were grateful for this week. The idea behind the exercise was to shift our focus from a risk model to strengths model. It also allowed us to be reminded that gratitude was one way to build resilience.

The other way to build resilience is through relationship. The act of “seeing” children/people differently, seeing their strengths, even when they don’t, builds resilience, said the presenter.

Kimberly went on to say that their were three guiding principles in building resilience: Attending to the development of the whole child, attention to context, and relationships as central.

She really was preaching to the choir. We all know this; at least everyone in the room knew this. And that’s not a bad thing. Knowledge doesn’t have to be new to be worthwhile.

Kimberly went on to talk a bit about risk, noting that 1 in 6 children live in poverty in Canada and sadly (shamefully) 1 in 4 lives in poverty in BC. She also noted that 1 in 5 youth experience mental health problems.

These are things that put children at higher risk. I personally don’t think it’s a direct correlation. These are factors that increase the likelihood of other factors that cause direct harm. Low economic status in and of itself does not cause problems for children, the reasons for poverty (i.e. parents who are not able to care for themselves or their children due to substance abuse and/or mental health issues) and the reduced opportunities that come from living in poverty however do increase risk.

Resilience doesn’t reside in the child. It occurs in context. Although some of the ingredients of resilience are heritable AND heritable traits are impacted by environment. (See next post for more about heritably of resilience.)

The focus of course needs to be on the context, the environmental factors that increase resilience, because this we can impact. Fifty odd years of research have proven time and again that things like early attachment, school experiences, family dynamics, community and neighborhoods are the differences that make the difference in building and destroying resilience.

We also know from research on the impact of early trauma that those who have experienced trauma, even at an early age, manage to not just survive but (some) to thrive IF they have one person in their life that genuinely cares about them. See and

The question raised was - How can agencies and programs create opportunities for mentorship and help youth learn resiliency and relationship skills?

As the discussion evolved a participant raised a good point by quoted Bruce Perry saying, “Children are not born resilience, they are born malleable”.

The gist of the answers we came up with involved the most basic principles of positive psychology: maintain a view of the person’s potential regardless of their current behaviour, mentor, model and teach, be the change you want to see. You know, all the good stuff.

Related links: offers free online courses about childhood trauma developed by Bruce Perry.

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