Numerous studies show striking consistency in defining a set of fundamental factors that determine the capacity of children and young people to demonstrate resilience. Masten (2009) draws from this extensive and diverse evidence base to identify a short list of such protective factors. They are:
- Effective parents and caregivers
- Connections to other competent and caring adults
- Problem-solving skills
- Self-regulation skills
- Positive beliefs about the self
- Beliefs that life has meaning
- Spirituality, faith and religious affiliations
- Socioeconomic advantages
- Pro-social, competent peers and friends
- Effective teachers and schools
- Safe and effective communities
Masten (2009) also highlights fundamental protective systems that support human resilience. These systems are instrumental in producing and sustaining the above protective factors in the lives of young people. They are:
- Human intelligence and information processing (a human brain in good working order)
- Motivation to adapt and opportunities for agency (mastery motivation)
- Self-control and emotion regulation (self-regulation)
- Religious and cultural systems that nurture human development and resilience
- Schools and communities that nurture and support human development and resilience.
The protective factors and systems identified by Masten are found either within the individual or their environment, although they have not been categorised in this way. Typically, researchers and theorists, including those that Masten draws from, do make the distinction between external and internal factors and processes.
Grotberg (1999) divides the sources of resilience into three categories:
- I have (external support)
- I am (the child’s internal strength such as feelings, attitudes, values and faith)
- I can (interpersonal skills such as communication, problem solving, management of feelings and temperament, social relationships).
Gunnestad (2003), while respectful of Grotberg’s delineation of influences, was concerned with a lack of clarity as to which factors fitted naturally within the categories of ‘I have’, ‘I am’ or ‘I can’. Taking the lead from Grotberg, Gunnestad groups factors into three categories:
- Network factors (external support) are elements of external support from people such as family, friends, neighbours, teachers, etc.
- Abilities and skills (internal support) represent inner strengths partly from inborn qualities and partly from learned skills making use of these qualities. Abilities are qualities that are largely innate, such as physical and mental strength, temperament and emotional stability, intellect and appearance. Skills include communication skills, social and emotional skills that enable a child to explain themselves, understand others, solve problems and make friends, as well as practical skills in making or doing things, and skills in art, sports, schoolwork, etc. that make a child feel good about themselves and able to help others.
- Meaning, values and faith (existential support) are the supports a child has from their understanding, from values and attitudes, and from their faith.
Gunnestad (2003) also factors in the influence of culture on each of his categories. He points out that culture affects “… the way we form networks and the importance we assign to them”, and “…decides what skills and activities are appreciated” (p1). Importantly, Gunnestad emphasises that meaning, values and faith are vital expressions of culture.
Like other contemporary methods of conceptualising resilience, Gunnestad makes the distinction between external and internal factors. His delineation of factors pertaining to competence and systems of belief is potentially useful for developing a more nuanced understanding of how resilience factors interact to influence the choices a young person makes and the direction of their developmental pathway.
Distinguishing between innate qualities and learned skills may also assist those seeking to build young people’s resilience in making better targeted and more sensitive interventions. Making the influence of culture overt is also a strength.
Gunnestad’s typology also has limitations. His categorisation of external assets as ‘network factors’ refers mainly to the human resources available within one’s social ecology and does not cover the range of contextual influences identified in Masten’s (2009) shortlist.
For example, Masten’s list includes socioeconomic resources and highlights the importance of safe and effective communities that provide young people with opportunities to exercise agency. She also highlights the significance of connection with religious and cultural systems that nurture human development.
Gunnestad’s second category, ‘skills and abilities’, does not include the broad range of living and self-care skills that would enhance a young person’s coping ability and capacity for resilience. There is also no investigation of the roles that self-awareness and social insight play in knowing when and how to apply skills most effectively to regulate emotions, communicate, and solve problems.
Within Gunnestad’s typology, the category ‘meaning, values and faith’ does not adequately represent the core schemas or beliefs that shape a young person’s motivation to adapt and pursue life opportunities (what Masten refers to as the mastery motivation system). This is also a limitation of Grotberg’s categories.
Finally, Gunnestad’s categories would need to be structured differently within a therapeutic framework that demonstrates how the promotion of resilience and healthy development can be woven into youth AOD practice. This requires a method for identifying the availability of resources and assets in a young person’s life and determining what this means for their prospects.
Despite these limitations, Gunnestad’s method of grouping protective factors into three categories has utility. The following describes how these limitations can be addressed across the three categories.
First, Gunnestad’s ‘network factors’ category of human relationships could be broadened to include the full range of external resources and assets that could contribute to resilient adaptation. These include material resources, opportunities for participation in purposeful activity, the availability of enabling environments (Duff, 2011), and relevant health and community services. This broader set of resources and assets are located within young people’s ‘social ecology’, and this term is used as the heading in the Framework for Resilience Based Intervention. The of these resources comprises a young person’s opportunity structure.
Second, Gunnestad’s ‘skills and abilities’ category should include knowledge as well as a grouping of resources and assets that represent key living skills. Further, the term ‘attributes’ more accurately denotes relatively stable traits or innate qualities such as temperament, intellect and appearance and allows for these assets to be readily differentiated from ‘skills’ that are can be learned or developed.
Gunnestad’s term ‘abilities’ is better suited to describing the sum total of a young person’s knowledge, skills and attributes. Ability can then be considered alongside any challenges a young person might face when striving to achieve their goals.
Third, Gunnestad’s category ‘meaning, faith and values’ accurately represents an important group of factors that influence resilience, but neglects a person’s beliefs or core schemas (e.g. self-esteem and self-efficacy), life opportunities and prospects for the future.
Consequently, the Framework for Resilience Based Practice includes a category for these constructs called ‘systems of beliefs’. This encompasses a young person’s self-concept and identity as well as their existential orientation (or the meaning that is ascribed to their circumstances and life opportunities). The inclusion of a subjective dimension holds with Gunnestad’s method and links the framework conceptually with contemporary ‘social and emotional well-being’ theory (White & Wyn, 2008).
Each of these three categories of resources and assets are explained in detail within the Framework for Resilience Based Practice.