Trauma can occur as a result of violence, abuse, neglect, loss, and other emotionally harmful experiences. Resilience refers to the ability of an individual, family, or community to cope with adversity and trauma, and adapt to challenges or change.
Traumatic and toxic stressors such as physical abuse, exposure to domestic or community violence, and depending on parents with mental and/or substance use disorders, tend to cluster in families. Often when one stressor is present, others are present as well.
Some communities have been exposed to disproportionate levels of trauma and violence. For example, American Indians and Alaska Natives and African Americans have experienced historical trauma that can be transmitted from one generation to the next. Military service members, veterans, and their families have dealt with the losses, fears, and injuries associated with ongoing wars.
While many people who experience trauma go on with their lives without lasting negative effects, others experience impaired neurodevelopmental and immune system responses. There may be subsequent health risk behaviors resulting in chronic physical and behavioral disorders. The more traumatic experiences a child is exposed to, the more likely the child will have difficulty with social and emotional functioning in childhood, exhibit cognitive problems, perform poorly in school, and experience mental and/or substance use disorders as an adult.
Building individual resilience is an ongoing process related to many factors. These factors include:
- Individual health and well-being
- Individual aspects
- Life experiences
- Social support
Interactions with responsive parents and other caregivers, rich sensory stimulation, and routines that shape a child’s day can build a child’s brain in healthy ways. Responsive communities can provide critical support for vulnerable children and families. Family organizations, belief systems, and communication also contribute to resilience as do strong community bonds, resources, and capacity.
- The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides data and statistics on the prevalence of ACEs and related substance use and mental health outcomes, and provides questionnaires that include ACE measures. Learn more about ACEs.
- The Child Trends DataBank includes hundreds of measures of child and youth well-being at the national, state-, and community-levels on health and safety, child care, education, behaviors, demographics, family and community, and economic security.
- The Kids Count Data Center at the Annie E. Casey Foundation provides hundreds of measures of child well-being at the state- and community-level, including measures of child abuse and neglect, housing, safety and risky behavior, employment, education, and poverty.
- The Flourishing Child Project, developed by Child Trends, provides indicators of flourishing among children and youth for inclusion in national surveys and program evaluations. Indicators include personal flourishing, flourishing in school and work, flourishing in relationships, relationship skills, helping others to flourish, and environmental stewardship.
- A Public Health Approach to Children’s Mental Health: A Conceptual Framework from the Georgetown University Center for Child and Human Development – 2010 (PDF | 2.6 MB). This resource describes the data-driven decision making process and provides examples of mental health and problem behaviors, outcomes, and determinants. Resources for measuring and monitoring children’s well-being and examples and sources of existing data are also available.
- Strengthening Families: The Protective Factor Framework from the Center for the Study of Social Policy (PDF | 278 KB). Protective factors featured in this framework include parental resilience, social connections, knowledge of parenting and child development, concrete support in times of need, and social and emotional competence of children.