Monday, February 2, 2015

Building and Supporting Resilience in Our Community

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As we gear up for another round of shoveling and dealing with the headaches of the increasing snowfall this seems like a good time to talk about resilience.  

The Early Childhood Advisory Council (ECAC) is a group of stakeholders who meet monthly to discuss how best to support children and families in Somerville.  They spent September-January closely examining key issues and reporting on what is going on in their agencies.  Amid discussions about transportation, food insecurity, housing, sleep, play, mental health and physical well-being, quality early education, immigration, and out of school opportunities, a topic rose to the surface - building resilience and supporting families dealing with stress.

The ECAC will spend the rest of this year engaged in advocacy and action related to resilience. This is an opportunity to re-visit the “The Campaign to Nurture Resilience in Somerville: Helping Kids Thrive” - an effort by Somerville Family Learning Collaborative (SFLC) ten years ago.  The concept of resilience has always been key to supporting Somerville families in raising their children to be successful in school and life. Now we want to extend the concept of resilience to the entire community - agencies, schools, and the city as a whole.

Amy Bamforth, Early Childhood Mental Health Specialist at SFLC
, spoke to the group in early January and helped define and dispel some myths about resilience. We watched a short video called Supporting Resilience packed with information. Consider sharing it with your colleagues, friends, or local municipal representatives (city council, school committees) and talking about it with them. 

RESILIENCE IS - A universal capacity which allows a person, group or community to prevent, minimize or overcome the damaging effects of adversity. It includes:
  • Our inborn capacity for self-righting and for transformation and change.
  • A process of connectedness, of linking to people, to interests, and ultimately to life itself.
  • The ability to defy negative predictions as a function of meaningful protective factors or interventions
  • The capacity to bounce back overcome adversarial factors from challenges typically predictive of failure.
  • An ecological phenomenon. It cannot be developed by sheer will power within the at-risk person; it is developed through interactions within the environment, families, school, neighborhoods and the larger community.
This last bullet is really important.  Resilience isn't all "nature".  Rather it is cultivated through the connections and relationships we build in our communities, in our work together.  And resilience can be "status quo" - sort of a stabilized state, out of crisis.  But there is also "transformational resilience" that involves bigger changes in people's lives. This means looking for and building on personal strengths in individuals, families, schools, and communities. 

Turns out there are some specific things we can do together.  The Center for the Study of Social Policy's Strengthening Families Initiative has a nice summary of Protective Factors we can foster and tap into to help children and families move towards resilience. They are:

  • Parental Resilience
  • Social Connections
  • Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development
  • Concrete Support in Times of Need
  • Social Emotional Competence of Children.
Whether our work is in schools, social service agencies, municipal offices, health care, etc. we must ask ourselves:

How do I foster protective factors in my daily work with children, families, and citizens? 

What does building resilience look like in schools?  In government agencies?  In hospitals and doctor's offices? 

Finally, Amy Bamforth also shared a checklist from “A Guide to Promoting Resilience in Children: Strengthening the Human Spirit: by Edith Grotberg, 1995. Here are a few of the items that parents, teachers, and others who work with and serve families should think about.

The child has someone who loves him/her totally (unconditionally).
The child has someone outside the home she/he can tell about problems and feelings.
The child is praised for doing things on his/her own.
The child can count on her/his family being there when needed.
The child knows someone he/she wants to be like.
The child believes things will turn out all right.
The child is willing to try new things.
The child likes to achieve in what he/she does.
The child feels that what she/he does makes a difference in how things come out.
The child can focus on a task and stay with it.
The child has a sense of humor.
The child makes plans to do things.

The Early Childhood Advisory Council meets the first Tuesday of each month from 10:00-11:30 at the SFLC at the Cummings School at 42 Prescott Street in Somerville.  For more information email Hope to see you there!