Abstract: Defining Resilience in Maltreated Children from the Practitioners' Perspectives (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

Defining Resilience in Maltreated Children from the Practitioners' Perspectives

Sunday, January 19, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 7, ML 2 (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Susan Yoon, PhD, Assistant Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Fei Pei, MSW, Doctoral Student Research Assistant, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Rebecca Dillard, MSW, Doctoral Candidate, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Karla Shockley McCarthy, MSW, LSW, Doctoral Student and Graduate Research Associate, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Brieanne Beaujolais, MA, MSW, Doctoral Student and Graduate Research Associate, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Kathryn Maguire-Jack, PhD, Associate Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Xiafei Wang, MSW, Research Assistant, Doctoral Candidate, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Background:  Although there is a growing body of literature that examines resilience following childhood trauma, significant confusion remains and debates continue on how to best define the construct of resilience. The lack of consensus or consistency with regard to the definition and conceptualization of resilience significantly limits the advancement of resilience research as well as practice. It is critical to learn from practitioners’ experiences to gain a deeper understanding of the practice field’s conceptualization of resilience and the characteristics of a child exhibiting resilience. The current study sought to explore the definition and meaning of resilience from a practitioner’s perspective through a qualitative study of practitioners working with maltreated children. 

Methods: We collected data through 27 in-depth, semi-structured, face-to-face individual interviews with service providers (e.g., practitioners, clinicians) who serve maltreated children. The sample was predominantly female (92.9%) and White (82.1% White, 14.3% Black, and 3.6% Hispanic). Participant’s age ranged from 23 to 51, with a mean age of 36. All interviews were audiotaped and transcribed verbatim. Thematic coding and analysis was used to analyze the data in ATLAS.ti version 8. Four trained graduate research associates read the transcripts several times to identify significant statements that provide an understanding of the meaning of resilience. A codebook was developed using the significant statements that were used to generate preliminary codes. Through an iterative process the initial themes were refined to ensure that the themes were clear and well-supported by the data. The final themes were derived once consensus was reached among the research team members.

Results: Three themes emerged from data analysis: 1) Thriving; 2) Surviving; and 3) Personal characteristics. The first theme ‘Thriving’ was derived based on participants’ descriptions of resilience as a capacity to thrive even after experiencing traumatic and adverse life experiences. Participants discussed resilience in terms of children’s growth mindset; ability to move forward; future oriented thinking (setting goals and working towards the goals); and succeeding in spite of maltreatment experiences. The second theme ‘Surviving’ was illustrated as getting through the day; maintaining daily routine and functioning; bouncing back from adversity; ability to survive trauma; and utilizing protective factors. Finally, some participants described resilience as personal characteristics, which can be innate or acquired. The third theme ‘Personal characteristics’ was illustrated as perseverance; flexibility; being able to adapt and adjust; grit; feisty; and being able to separate and compartmentalize the trauma. 

Conclusions/Implications: This study contributes to our understanding of resilience following child maltreatment by illuminating practitioners’ conceptualization of resilience and incorporating valuable voices from the field. Findings suggest that resilience may manifest in various forms (thriving, surviving, personal characteristics) among children who have experienced childhood maltreatment, highlighting the importance of understanding and recognizing individual differences in the development and display of resilience in this population. Intervention strategies to promote resilience in maltreated children should incorporate the ways in which they can move forward to meet their future goals (thrive), bounce back to maintain their lives (survive), and utilize their innate hardiness or acquire skills to adapt and adjust (personal characteristics).