Despite the desperate social and economic conditions which confront
many of today's youth, a significant proportion become healthy, successful,
and law-abiding adults. Recent multidisciplinary research on the
topic ofresilience shows significant promise for improving mental
health and for preventing delinquency among youth at risk. What are
the factors and processes that enable some individuals to function
well despite adversity? Understanding the concept of resilience provides
a new way of thinking that can help policymakers, administrators,
educators, and community leaders in a variety of fields to foster
more favorable educational, community-oriented environments and to
design more effective intervention models.
In recent years, a shift in paradigm led in epidemiology by Michael
Rutter, and in social problems led by Emmy Werner and Norman Garmezy,
has had important implications for preventing juvenile crime. Today,
social scientists are augmenting risk factor research by investigating
the strengths that help young people to overcome these risks. Social
science researchers have moved from looking only at the "problem" to
studying the strengths of individuals, families, schools, communities,
Individuals' ability to be resilient is shaped by their experiences,
resources, and temperament in early childhood and throughout their
lives. Some of the characteristics that contribute to resilience
are provided by a facilitative environment, and some, such as social
skills, are learned over time. Other strengths, such as a sense of
worth, competence, power, hope and virtue, are developmentally acquired.
Exposure to small doses of adversity (e.g., in the form of "challenge" programs
such as outward bound) at appropriate developmental stages may even
help to foster resilience. The development of resilience is a dynamic
process involving ongoing interactions between the characteristics
of the growing individual and the environmental.
Recent and Planned Activities
Since 1989, the Institute for Mental Health Initiatives (IMHI)
has been conducting intensive reviews of the literature on resilience,
meeting with the leading social scientists in small work groups.
In 1991, in collaboration with the National Institute of Mental Health
and the American Psychological Association, IMHI convened an international
conference on Fostering Resilience, bringing together the most eminent
researchers in order to arrive at a consensus concerning what is
known about resilience. Participants broke new ground on the understanding
of cultural diversity, developmental issues, and universal principles.
Subsequently, in 1997, with support from the Center for Mental Health
Services, IMHI convened a conference of leaders in education, religion,
and mental health (both providers and consumers). They examined the
implications of research for fostering resilience in programs and
outreach activities and have followed up with development of specific
research goals and media strategies. These efforts join a number
of other initiatives currently being funded by the public and private
To Be Discussed at the Meeting
Realizing how expensive it is to incarcerate and to intervene after
the fact of juvenile crime, presenters will examine how some children
are able to beat the odds against them to become competent citizens
despite the risks of delinquent involvement and mental health problems.
A research review of factors and processes that promote resilience
to poor developmental outcomes will be followed by a selective review
of promising programs intended to foster resilience. Presenters will
review the applications of resilience research to juvenile delinquency
and will examine models of prevention and intervention that promote
resilience by strengthening mental health and social competence.
Recommendations will be made for modification of these programs as
well as for the development of new materials.
Possible formation of an interagency working group to promote better
coordination of resiliency-based programming and to promote greater
awareness of effective strategies and practices that foster resiliency.
Suzanne Stutman, MA, MSW, BCD
President, Institute for Mental Health Initiatives
email@example.com - e-mail
Carolyn Smith, Ph.D., MA, MSW
University at Albany, State University of New York
518-442-5341 - Phone
518-442-5380 - Fax
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