Resilience is not a static, internal quality of individuals; it is an ecologically dynamic and mutually dependent process (Ungar, 2005). The capacity of young people and their carers to cope and thrive depends on the availability and accessibility of resources and assets within their social ecology.

Granfield and Cloud (2001) demonstrate that personal problems and their solutions are embedded within a larger structure of social relations and networks. They studied how people managed to overcome substance dependence without treatment support. They found that those who were able to stay connected to a ‘conventional life’ while using had markedly better outcomes than those who had become disconnected. The connection to the conventional offered respondents “…access to information, normative expectations, relationships, institutions, and other opportunities that provided useful resources for their personal transformations” (p1553).

Each young person’s opportunities to manage risk, pursue goals and gain rewards are structured differently according to a range of macro-environmental (‘distal’) and micro-environmental (‘proximal’) influences. Distal influences include the public and legal/policy context; economic conditions, gender and ethnic inequalities. Proximal influences include group norms, rules and values; social networks and peer influences; the settings in which drug use occurs and the local neighbourhood (Kerr, Small, Moore & Wood, 2006).

It is also worth emphasising the pervasive influence of poverty and the crucial influence of families. Both distal and proximal influences intersect to determine the nature and quality of resources and assets available to young people and those involved in their care as well as how they are made available.