Risk and resilience: the role of risk and protective factors in the lives of young people over time
In 1998, 12 students, aged 11-12 years, were identified by primary schools in a socially disadvantaged area of New Zealand as being at risk of negative life outcomes, as a consequence of known adversities in their lives. The students were interviewed, as were their parents and teachers, and they also completed learning assessments and measures of personal and social concerns. The purpose of these evaluations was to identify risk and protective factors in the young people’s lives, and to make estimations of personal resilience. In 2008, nine of the original study participants, who were now aged 21-22 years and in emerging adulthood, were located and were interviewed again. The assessments addressed the participant’s current circumstances, and what had happened for them over the last ten years. The interviews also asked the participants to reflect about 12 resilience dimensions that have been identified in the literature (Masten & Coatsworth, 1998) and whether they considered that they were personally resilient. The recent interview data were analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (Smith & Osborn, 2008). The individual analyses show a rich diversity of life paths and, as well, three sets of themes were identified across the case studies; and they are personal relationships, contexts of development (schooling and education, culture, religion, and jobs and careers), and personhood and identity. A resilience model was derived from the integration of the data from the first and second assessments with contemporary resilience studies and theorising. The central idea of the model is that resilient functioning is determined by the nature and quality of relationships within, and across, developmental settings. As a corollary, it is hypothesised that interpersonal relationships influence individual executive functioning, and emotional regulation in particular; and that these cognitive and affective capacities can translate into goal seeking and other constructive actions. The explanation of the resilience model leads onto recommendations for further research on relationships that enhance personal functioning. There are also suggestions for social policy that follow from the exposition, and some guidelines for professional practice with children and families.