Resiliency and its Use in Foster Care

By Tom Culver, State Manager, KidsPeace North Carolina Foster Care and Community Programs

One of the greatest challenges facing agencies that provide services to high-risk children and families in community settings is the need to have a well defined Model of Care that is understood and implemented by all involved in service provision. The need for a well defined Model of Care that is supported by research to demonstrate a positive impact on the life outcomes of the families and children we serve becomes increasingly important as the effects of both child welfare reform and mental health reform demand that foster care and community services serve clients who may have otherwise been served in a more intensive residential treatment setting. KidsPeace Foster Care and Community Programs (FCCP) has embraced a Model of Care that is based on Resiliency Theory.

Resiliency Theory arose from the study of the characteristics and life histories of those high-risk individuals who experienced adversity yet managed to avoid poor life outcomes such as: substance abuse; dropping out of school; social and relational problems; mental/emotional problems; problems with law enforcement; and vocational instability. The studies contributing to the theory of resilience refer to various cross-cultural lifespan developmental studies on the lives of children who were born into families and environments that provided serious risk and adversity to the healthy development of the child. Studies include: children born to parents who suffered from mental illness and/or severe chronic substance abuse problems; children raised in homes that subject them to severe neglect and /or abuse; and children raised in environments with severe poverty, crime and instability. Surprisingly, the findings from these long-term studies were that at least 50% - and often closer to 70% - of youth growing up in these adverse conditions developed the life skills necessary to overcome the odds and lead successful lives.

The greatest benefit derived from this research on children who have overcome significant adversity and have thrived in spite of it, is a list of common characteristics found in the lives of these individuals. The list of common characteristics known as “protective factors” has become a focus in the KidsPeace Model of Care as these characteristics appear to counterbalance the adverse effects that “risk factors” have on a developing child or on any individual struggling with excessive levels of stress brought on by too much risk/adversity. <<Read More>>