Written by Dr. Sonia Jain and Arras Amirah
Are you a nonprofit working on preventing violence and supporting youth exposed to violence? Are you measuring resilience and building protective factors? It is an innovative approach that needs greater evidence of effectiveness.
Need for Resilience Perspective to Combat Violence
October set forth a myriad of unprecedented violent events in the world and served as a poignant reminder of Violence Prevention Awareness, urging us to confront a pressing issue that disproportionately and unfairly affects millions of innocent, high-risk children and youth in the US and globally! DNA Global, with violence prevention, resilience and youth development research and evaluation expertise, is on a mission to make a profound impact collectively on preventing violence globally by increasing awareness of, examining and addressing root causes or social determinants of violence, and building resilience and protective factors which are more powerful predictors of positive outcomes, than deficit-based public health models or punitive justice models.
The Urgent Call for Action
We are witnessing an alarming rise in all forms of violence, particularly among children. An overwhelming majority of high-risk youth have been victims of or witnessed violence. This includes physical violence, gun violence, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, child abuse, and neglect with detrimental short and long-term effects on social, behavioral and academic outcomes. Lower-income individuals and youth of color continue to be disproportionately exposed to violence, usually facing myriads of compounding risks! How do we support and empower these youth to tip the balance in favor of resilience?
Focus on Unpacking Inequities and upstream factors:
It is a complex issue, requiring implementation of multi-pronged human-centered strategies. Communities face myriad challenges in addressing this issue, from resource scarcity, magnitude of the problem, limited collective action, to ineffective implementation of evidence-based practices and policies. Though we are moving in the right direction, there is an urgency to increase collaboration between researchers and practitioners examining inequities at the system, practice and policy levels, like unequal access to quality housing, jobs, healthcare, mental health services or opportunities amongst others.
Measure What Works: Resilience
Our research unveils potential solutions rooted in building resilience. Integrating developmental assets at the family, peer, and neighborhood levels nurtures resilience, enabling individuals to thrive amidst adversity. There is compelling evidence that many youth exposed to community violence manage to adapt successfully over time. Developmental assets have been deemed salient for positive youth development, though limited longitudinal studies have examined their relevance for high-risk youth. Using the Developmental Assets framework and merging existing datasets, we tested whether supportive relationships, high expectations, and opportunities build emotional resilience, modifying risk effects over time.
We modeled trajectories to examine whether protective factors at wave 1 predicted emotional resilience at waves 2 and 3, using the PHDCN dataset. Over seven years, 60-85% of high-risk youth ETV classified as emotionally resilient. And above other factors, the presence of positive peers and supportive relationships with parents or other adults showed significant effects. Positive peers and family support were particularly protective for witnesses and victims of violence. This aligns with growing resilience research. Structured activities (such as sports, drama, arts) and collective efficacy influenced change in resilience differentially among those ETV. More research, evaluation and interventions are needed that examine protective factors in the system, community, family and school levels.
Additionally, in program evaluations, advanced statistical data analysis that controls for complex factors in youth's environments, and provides robust estimates is invaluable to identify specific strategies and designing more effective programs. Given the magnitude of the problem and scarce resources, we need to hone in on and scale what works specifically, using advanced research and quantitative methodologies - in addition to stories and narrative. Providing advanced research and analytical skills has been a plus point of many of our evaluations.
Finally, more than ever, post-Covid, there is greater need for building mental wellness, emotional resilience and connection. Harvard Business Review recently noted in “Secrets to Building Resilience” that “Covid has created a significant transition for us all. The importance of building and maintaining your connections has never been clearer.” We wholeheartedly agree, and hope to support much more research and program evaluations to do just that!
In sum, we strongly believe in the power of resilience, and measuring what's working! We need to measure what matters most, given the complex nested nature of the problem. More Violence Prevention programs need to examine and evaluate protective factors within homes, schools, and communities that support high-risk youths in disadvantaged neighborhoods and settings. While becoming aware of the data and stories of resilience amidst violence around the world is a crucial first step, it is only the beginning.
Tell us what you think:
How can we use growing knowledge and evidence on resilience to design and implement strengths-based strategies and programs? Share your insights with us!
If you are interested in consulting services with DNA, pls don’t hesitate to contact Becky Peeper, Business Development Manager (email@example.com). Thank you. Pls spread the word, and support innovation and integration of research-practice.