Resilience to ACEs

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Some children thrive despite ACEs.


Adversity is only one part of the equation. Children may also have their own characteristics and experiences that protect them and help them develop resilience despite exposure to ACEs. Resilience is positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity. In the face of adversity, neither resilience nor disease is a certain outcome.

Resilience is the result of a dynamic set of interactions between a person’s adverse experiences and his or her protective factors. This interaction is what determines the developmental path towards health and well–being or towards illness and dysfunction. No child is magically resilient or invulnerable to ACEs, just as no individual child is automatically doomed in the face of ACEs. These protective factors can include a person’s own biological and developmental characteristics. But protective factors can also include characteristics of the family, community, and systems that mitigate the negative impacts of ACEs. Protective factors help explain how some people who have sustained a great deal of adversity as children have fared relatively well in adulthood.

The presence of protective factors, particularly safe, stable, and nurturing relationships, can often mitigate the consequences of ACEs. Individuals, families, and communities can all influence the development of many protective factors throughout a child’s life that can impact his or her development.

How does resilience develop? There are multiple pathways to resilience. Resilience researchers continue to refine understanding about the ingredients and processes involved in supporting resilience. However, there is agreement about a variety of important individual, family and community conditions that support resilience. Here is a list of protective factors:

  • Close relationships with competent caregivers or other caring adults
  • Parent resilience
  • Caregiver knowledge and application of positive parenting skills
  • Identifying and cultivating a sense of purpose (faith, culture, identity)
  • Individual developmental competencies (problem solving skills, self–regulation, agency)
  • Children’s social and emotional health
  • Social connections
  • Socioeconomic advantages and concrete support for parents and families
  • Communities and social systems that support health and development, and nurture human capital

Protective factors help a child feel safe more quickly after experiencing the toxic stress of ACEs and help to neutralize the physical changes that naturally occur during and after trauma. If the child’s protective networks are in good working order, development is strong even in the face of severe adversity.

If these major systems are impaired, either before or after the ACE, then the risk for developmental problems is much greater. This is particularly true if the environmental hazards are prolonged. In sum, even the negative consequences of toxic stress from ACEs can be buffered with the support of caring, competent adults and appropriate intervention and support.

 

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