OP-ED: How Do We Build Resilience Among Youth?

Print More

15328419577137.rHd3MFWsVnZ9VFkjM3U8_height640How can the juvenile justice system — and other agencies that serve children — build post-traumatic resilience among youth? The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), the nation’s largest foundation dedicated to improving the health of all Americans, is exploring how it can contribute to ending the culture of violence and trauma that is an obstacle to good health for too many vulnerable Americans. We cannot call ourselves a healthy nation if we continue to be a violent one.

A new report from the Juvenile Law Center, commissioned by RWJF, makes it clear that in addition to providing trauma-informed services, we need to be mindful of how we use our knowledge of a child's trauma to help and not to hurt.

The report, “Trauma and Resilience: A New Look at Legal Advocacy for Youth in the Juvenile Justice and Child Welfare Systems,” provides a vital look at how system involvement — in the juvenile justice or child welfare system — can cause trauma, or exacerbate underlying trauma caused by sexual abuse, violence, the death of a loved one, witnessing violence and other experiences. The report sets forth ways to support resilience in youth, and also recognizes the risk of lifelong damage from unaddressed trauma. It includes both strategies for individual advocates and policy recommendations for changing the system.

How You Can Contribute

As we think about supporting trauma-informed services — in schools, clinical settings, communities and elsewhere — we have a number of questions we are exploring:

  • When, in our efforts to help children, is it appropriate to surface knowledge of trauma and when is it not?
  • How do we connect children and families to systems and ensure that they are supported rather than put at risk of further trauma?
  • Children from different socioeconomic backgrounds are exposed to violence and trauma, but there are disparities in who receives appropriate care. How do we ensure that high-quality resources are reaching all children and families who need them?
  • How do we build and expand systems that recognize a child is not defined solely by the trauma he or she has experienced, but provide the proactive approaches that strengthen and build resilience?

You can help us to answer these questions by sharing the names of people and organizations that you believe are doing effective and/or innovative trauma-informed work, by sharing research you are conducting or perhaps just reading. You can also share your own ideas. Share in the comment section below, or join the conversation taking place on the RWJF Forum.


Jennifer Ng’andu is a program officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

6 thoughts on “OP-ED: How Do We Build Resilience Among Youth?

  1. In my world of youth circus arts education, over 150 of our member organizations work to build Confidence.Imagination.Respect.Cooperation.Understanding.Success. (CIRCUS) in the children and teens who study circus arts with us. We do, when appropriate, substitute the word Respect with the word Resiliency. In addition to the concrete proposals listed by these other commentators above, the arts, specifically the physical and musical arts, can do more for a child on a psychological and behavioral level, in a more direct and pervasive way, than laws can. Laws take forever to be created, vetted and passed. The arts move children to express their fears, anxieties and their joys with laser-like precision. Call it therapy, call it behavior expression, call it art with a purpose…children who have been compromised in any way need a way to express their inner selves. Yes, we adults need to protect them; but when we are coming to their state of mind after an incident late, or after the incident, we need to address their hearts, their minds and their behaviors, not their facts, as quickly as possible. The facts will come out.

  2. A key to creating a freedom portal for our kids is to implement a cohesive training to recognize the red flags of abuse. Parents, teachers, police officers and DCFS need to become sensitive to the red flags of “help me” cries by abused kids. Our kids need to be embraced and not ignored or profiled as a trouble maker. Resilience is only reached with love.

  3. The work that Mr. Jerry Tello has led has moved the field of informed social service providers from understanding trauma and being trauma informed towards the dimension of being healing informed. At some point, providers of services to communities that are economically and socially marginalized will understand that for many children and communities that have experienced “adverse” life circumstances, healing is often the precursor to lifelong emotional and physical health. Doing this in a manner that is culturally congruent so that positive assets are brought forth is where the transformation begins.

  4. Hello! Children in our country have been systematically robbed of the opportunity for the development of resilience by a culture that says that kids can’t solve their own problems and that they should not be held accountable for their actions, even if they are held accountable in a firm, loving, and calm way. Teachers and parents are not trained to work with kids without anger, lectures, warnings or threats in order to be calm, strict and loving. Kids, especially kids in poorer communities are treated with hostility and anger, even when we know that when these two factors are present, children cannot learn or develop healthily. The reason for this is that adults need to have explicit and systematic skills training in order to be able to work with ANY kid, especially kids who have experienced significant traumas in their lives. I train adults to have these skills and the information is contained in the above blog. I hope that it can be of some benefit.

  5. Pingback: Resilience NEWS | resilience reporter

  6. Too many of our current system that work with and purport to help children have been infiltrated with pedophiles, who flock like vultures to places where children are. Churches, scouts, teachers, clubs. All are vulnerable to this insideous takeover. The culture of coverup prevents housecleaning.
    We need exceptionally proactive oversight and training for the adults and especially the children to be alert to these dangers from within, and exceptionally fast and clear action when a predator is identified.

    Children who report such crimes must be believed and protected from helpers who harm.

    The current governmental child protective system and divorce court have also been infected with a mind set of disbelieving children. This results in an alarming drop in the percentage of substantiated child abuse reports from 25 percent in the 1990’s to a scant 7 percent in my county in 2003. Family/divorce court is equally as chilling. Two studies show that only 10 percent of children who report sexual abuse in the context of a divorce are protected. The rest are shoved into the waiting arms of their incestuous abusers and removed from their protective parent, usually the more economically disadvantaged mothers. 90 percent of these children are doomed to be being legally raped for their entire childhood. Right now. Right here.

    Just by ensuring that a child who reports being sexually abused is believed, as the research shows they are truthful neary 100 percent of the time, we would be able to save many many children from a lifetime of horror. That would certainly build resilience. It would be a big culture shift.

    It would go up against the vested child porn industry that has a stranglehold on the nation, so it would not be an easy thing to do.

    The next most important way I see to increase resiliency in children is to have a massive ongoing media campaign, on television, cartoons, soap operas, billboards, busses, children’s toys, preschool education, mandatory new parenting education, schools, colleges, workplaces, that corporal punishment is simply wrong.

    It is bullying. It is a human rights violation. It is dangerous in ANY form, even a swat on a padded bottom. It is assault. Especially the barbaric practice of spanking a newborn

    Corporal punishment in every form should be criminalized, but our country is already so violent that spanking is being upheld in courts. So we need to counteract that with a massive ongoing media campaign using the most sophisticated public relations techniques ever designed.

    We need to shame our judges and juries into doing the right thing to ensure children’s safety by exposing them at every turn.

    We must shame our religious institutions by asking them if Jesus would ever hit a child.

    We must let children know it is not ok to be hit or hurt in any way. That their bodies are holy ground. That each child is the most valuable person in the whole world.

    I had my young children say to me just before they drifted off to sleep at night, “I am a strong, smart, beautiful, courageous, kind girl” and “I am a strong, smart, handsome, courageous, kind boy.” They grew up to believe it, deep inside themselves. That message must go out in every format possible to every child in the world.

    No single program will work to create resiliency in children. They need to know the whole village treasures them. I think it can be done if we put sufficient resources behind such a campaign

    Thank you for letting me respond. It is an honor

    Connie Valentine MS
    Ca Protective Parents Associatio