09:10:18 pm on
Friday 06 Dec 2019

Developing Resilience
AJ Robinson

I recently attended a conference for foster or adoptive parents. It was most informative and helpful, not just in terms of making me a better foster parent. No, it helped me personally deal with some of my inner demons.

► This conference was significant.

When I was a member of the Florida Writers Association (FWA), I went to several of its conferences. In fact, I was usually helping with the various programmes at the FWA. Those conferences had workshops to help writers find their voice, get an agent and publisher, successfully promote their books and so on.

The foster conference ran for three days and, as does a good conference, had a number of workshops on different topics. The foster conference covered topics way beyond anything I learned regarding mere writing. Its life-altering workshops transcended something as simple and mundane as writing a national best-seller. The classes, at the foster conference, helped me to be a better person.

I can’t begin to do justice to all of the workshops, which I attended at the foster conference, but one that struck close to home. The workshop title was Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). Too often, we hear about children being resilient in the face of adversity. How often does someone say, “Oh, don’t worry about the kids in that family just because their parents are divorcing. Children are resilient. They’ll get through it.”

Resilience is not something innate; it’s learned. When not learned, well, kids do not “just get through it,” whatever that slogan means. In the last few years, researchers noticed some common events of childhood that might adversely affect the growth and development of resilience in children. Researchers conducted studies as well as talked with children and adults. The researchers were able to narrow the key factors down to ten items that affected resilience in children.

► Some items were obvious, some not so.

Some obvious items, such as various types of abuse, neglect, divorce and drug use, as were smoking, alcoholism, drugs, depression and attempted suicide. Some were less obvious, such as incarceration of a family member or abuse directed specifically at the mother or stepmother of the family unit. I did not see that one coming, but, on reflection, understood its importance; the maternal bond is the strongest.

Lack of physical activity contributed to a low level of resilience. It also contributed to severe obesity, missed work, ostensible depression and even heart disease, cancer, strokes, COPD and broken bones, at a higher rate than normal. Life expectancy could fall by up to twenty years.

Another aspect we learned about was that these factors were mitigatable by something as simple as a grandparent, aunt, uncle or teacher that stepped up to show the child even an iota of kindness and support, at a key point in their lives. Social support mediates deviance, of most forms. Support systems are the magical key to development and stability.

Based on test scores, researchers found that having as few as four factors could effect, severely, on child development of resilience and in ways unexpected ways.

One of the first things we did in the workshop was to test ourselves. I was surprised at my score: seven, which was a real downer. Ah, but there was a light at the end of the tunnel and it wasn’t the headlamp on the on-coming train.

The plus side was the researchers came up with ways of dealing with these issues and the results have been amazing. The leader of the workshop couldn’t begin to give us all the details on every case, but spoke of a school in Washington state that saw a 95% drop in fights in high school following implementation of a new protocol to help these kids. Think about that, a ninety-five percent reduction.

► If only we can help one child.

Not only did that make me feel better about my own life, which had several such people, but it renewed my faith in the foster programme and my part in it. If my wife, Jo Ann and I can be supportive for even one child, we will have succeeded in our efforts. Many more people need to heed the call to help these children.

Combining the gimlet-eye, of Philip Roth, with the precisive mind of Lionel Trilling, AJ Robinson writes about what goes bump in the mind, of 21st century adults. Raised in Boston, with summers on Martha's Vineyard, AJ now lives in Florida. Most of the time he writes, but sometimes he works at Disney World to renew his fantasies and get a few dollars more. AJ writes, with insight and passion, about his family and his dog. His liberal, note the small "l," sensibilities often lead to bouts of righteous indignation, well focused and true.

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