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Transitions and Resilience. Brigid Daniel Professor of Social Work University of Stirling. Transitions - developmental. Changes in dependency, from total dependence to more inter-dependence/mutual dependence and autonomy and perhaps back to more dependence in very old age….

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transitions and resilience

Transitions and Resilience

Brigid Daniel

Professor of Social Work

University of Stirling

transitions developmental
Transitions - developmental
  • Changes in dependency, from total dependence to more inter-dependence/mutual dependence and autonomy and perhaps back to more dependence in very old age….
  • Maturational transitions – growth, puberty, ageing….
  • Socially- constructed transitions related to developmental stage – starting school, moving to secondary school, leaving school, further study/education, moving house, moving to residential care/hospice/hospital….
transitions event driven
Transitions – event-driven
  • Positive events – partnership / marriage, new jobs, move of house, promotion, new friends, new hobby or activity….
  • Losses– separation from attachment figures, bereavement, divorce / separation, redundancy, retirement, loss of friends, loss of mobility and access…

All life-changes, whether positive or negative entail some levels of stress.


‘a phenomenon or process reflecting relatively positive adaptation despite experiences of adversity or trauma’ (Luthar, 2005).


Resilient children are better equipped to resist stress and adversity, cope with change and uncertainty, and to recover faster and more completely from traumatic events or episodes.

(Newman and Blackburn, 2002)

three building blocks of resilience
Three building blocks of resilience
  • Secure base / sense of security and attachment
  • Self-esteem
  • Self-efficacy
resilient people can say
Resilient people can say:

‘I HAVE………….…people I trust and love’

‘I AM……………………..a loveable person’

‘I CAN…………find ways to solve problems’

Grotberg, E. (1997) ‘The international resilience project.’ In M. John (ed) A Charge against Society:The Child’s Right to Protection. London: Jessica Kingsley.


‘Resilience Matrix’

Devised in collaboration with Sally Wassell and Robbie Gilligan


Resilience ‘domains’

Designed with children in mind,

but adaptable to other ages

messages about young people and transitions
Messages about young people and transitions
  • Chronic stressors actually cause more long term problems than acute events.
  • Over-protection from stressors can reduce opportunities to develop the skills to deal with adversity.
  • ‘All interventions in health, education and social care may do harm as well as good. Where children, families and communities have the resources to deal with adversities without remedial help, services should not seek to provide unnecessary interventions.’

(Newman and Blackburn, 2002)

messages about family resilience
Messages about ‘family resilience’
  • Families who respond well to crisis tend to have more open communication both between the parents and between children and parents; shared values and goals; and a willingness to change.
  • McCubbin et al’s model:
    • direct action to eliminate or reduce the demands
    • action to obtain additional resources
    • managing the tensions (e.g. taking time out, humour, exercise)
    • reassessing beliefs and values.

A study of parenting a disabled child - key strengths that the mothers identified in themselves and their families were:

    • a long-standing positive attitude to life
    • an organised and confident approach
    • recognition of both strengths and limitations
    • supportive partners and others
    • a strong sense of purpose, sometimes related to religious beliefs

(Gardner and Harmon, 2002).

what is adversity
What is adversity?
  • How do definitions of adversity vary according to who is defining it, for example researchers, practitioners, policy makers or service users?
  • How can we ensure that definitions are inclusive?
  • What assumptions are made about the adversity that people in transition may have faced or be facing?

An accumulation of stressors is more damaging e.g.

    • ‘Children may often be able to overcome and even learn from single or moderate risks, but when risk factors accumulate, children’s capacity to survive rapidly diminishes’ (Newman and Blackburn, 2002).
    • ‘Parenting stress and child abuse potential were higher for women with five risks or more compared with women who had four or fewer risks...’ (Nair et al. 2003)
  • Therefore we need to aim to prevent ‘pile-up’ of stressors.

Situations which may be experienced as adverse or negative by some people may be perceived as relatively positive or less challenging for others

    • e.g. living in homeless accommodation could be described as living in adverse conditions or as a positive improvement there was abuse in the family home.
  • It is often at times of transition that young people who have experienced adversity are able to display an ability to problem solve or at least be encouraged to learn this skill (Newman, 2004).
resilience and resistance
‘Resilience’ and ‘resistance’
  • A study of US teenagers who were earning their living by prostitution showed that they resisted the ‘victim’ label
    • 'Instead of a doe-eyed crying victim [practitioners] confront a strong, willful, survivor who looks and acts quite differently from the victims portrayed in the media.‘ Williams (forthcoming)
  • Active coping strategies but some coping skills that worked in one situation, don’t work in others - e.g. withdrawal.
what is well being
What is well-being?
  • What factors combine to give a feeling of well-being?
  • Who defines it?
  • Is it about coping or thriving?
  • How can it be measured?

Well-being can incorporate aspects of physical and mental well-being – may also include economic and material features.

  • Not everyone has a vocabulary of feelings to express feelings of well-being or otherwise.
  • Transitions highlight the distinction between feeling ‘things just happen to you’ or the feeling that you have some control over events, or at least over the impact of events.

There can be different aspirations

    • e.g. for children who have suffered significant abuse or neglect it may be more about their ability to cope or function reasonably well than an expectation that they will thrive (Kinard, 1998).
    • a young person who has moved from a damaging family or care situation and is able to survive in their own tenancy may seem to be meeting a ‘well-being indicator’.
  • Does being ‘less miserable than before’ equate with well-being?
  • Capitalise on transition to make positive changes.

Model for Intervention

Identify and support protective resources

Understand the impact of adversity of transition

Nurture capacity to benefit from these resources

Remove or reduce the impact of adverse effect of transition


Intervention Strategies

Reduce vulnerability and risk

Reduce the number of stressors and ‘pile-up’

Increase available resources

Mobilise protective processes

Foster resilience strings

(Masten, 2004)‏


Same principles can apply at all stages of the life-span

  • Sense of security:
    • Support with relationships
    • Social support networks
  • Self-esteem:
    • Sense of worth
    • Opportunity to take part in activities

Self-efficacy and competence

  • Resilience associated with sense of self-efficacy, mastery, planful competence and appropriate autonomy.
  • Unhelpful combination of attributions are those that are internal, stable and global

“Its my fault, it’s going to last forever, and its going to affect everything I do.”


‘A body of research points to ‘problem-focused’ coping, rather than avoidant or passive responses, as being most successful for a range of adversities. This involves responding to hardship by taking active steps to modify features in the environment or oneself that are contributing to the difficulty in question’ (Hill et al, 2007)



    • Problem-focused coping – change the problem if you can or
    • Emotion-focused coping – change how you think and feel about the problem
  • Planful competence – being able to see different options.

In addition:

  • Empathy, positive values, making a contribution - all contribute to resilience.