Factors That Help Kids Become Resilient After Trauma

Melissa-GreenA recent Australian Rotary Health (ARH) funded study has identified factors that may help some children become more resilient following trauma.

ARH Mental Health Research Grant recipient Professor Melissa Green and her team at the University of New South Wales examined factors associated with resilience in a cohort of 4,716 children residing in New South Wales, who were known to child protection services by the age of 13.

“Children known to child protective services are at a high risk of poor mental health and developmental difficulties in social, emotional, and cognitive domains in childhood,” Professor Green said.

“Understanding why some maltreated children do not show developmental difficulties may help us to understand factors that contribute to resilience following trauma.”

In the study, around 55% of children had developed typically in areas of social, emotional, and cognitive functioning at 5 years old, and continued this trajectory at 11 years old. These children were considered ‘stress resistant’.

A further 13.5% of children who showed poor early development at 5 years old, but showed improvement by middle childhood, were considered to possess ‘emergent resilience’.

Common across these two groups were factors such as being a girl and having personality characteristics of openness and extraversion.

However, there were further factors that were only observed in children belonging to the ‘stress resistant’ group. These included living in an area of higher socioeconomic status, being of non-Indigenous origin, being at lower risk of harm due to maltreatment (i.e., having a child protection report that did not meet the threshold for risk of significant harm), having parents with no criminal offenses, and reporting higher perceived levels of support in both home and school environments.

“Strikingly, none of these factors was associated with the ‘emergent resilience’ profile. In other words, a number of protective and/or supportive factors are associated with ‘stress resistance’, but not with ‘emergent resilience’. The latter appear to be reliant solely on their own internal resources to attain a more typical developmental profile,” Professor Green said.

“These findings should be considered by agencies responding to early child maltreatment.”

Professor Green received a Mental Health Research Grant from Australian Rotary Health between 2017-2018. Keep an eye out for an interview with Professor Green about these research findings on our The Research Behind Lift the Lid podcast in April 2022.

This article includes findings from the Journal of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology article ‘Profiles of Resilience from Early to Middle Childhood among Children Known to Child Protection Services’.

The following studies associated with this project have also been published:

  1. Green, M.J., Tzoumakis, S., McIntyre, B., Kariuki, M., Laurens, K.R., Dean, K., Chilvers, M., Harris, F., Butler, M., Brinkman, S., Carr, V.J. (2018). Childhood maltreatment and early developmental vulnerabilities at age 5 years. Child Development, 89 (5), 1599-1612
  2. Rossen, L., Tzoumakis, S., Kariuki, M., Laurens, K.R., Butler, M., Chilvers, M., Harris, F., Carr, V.J., Green, M.J. (2019). Timing of the first report and highest level of child protection response in association with developmental vulnerabilities in an Australian population cohort. Child Abuse and Neglect, 93, 1-12.
  3. Green, M.J., Hindmarsh, G., Kariuki, M., Islam, F., Laurens, K.R., Neil, A., Katz, I., Chilvers, M., Harris, F., Carr, V.J. (2019). Mental disorders in children known to child protection services in early childhood. Medical Journal of Australia
  4. Laurens K.R., Islam, F., Kariuki, M., Butler, M., Chilvers, M., Harris, F., Carr, V.J., Green, M.J. (2020) Reading and numeracy attainment of children reported to child protection services: A population record linkage study controlling for other adversities. Child Abuse and Neglect 
  5. Piotrowska, P., Whitten, T., Tzoumakis, S., Laurens, K.R., Katz, I., Harris, F., Carr, V.J. Green, M.J., (2020). Transitions between socio-emotional and cognitive vulnerability profiles from early to middle childhood: a population study using multi-agency administrative records. European Child and Adolescent Psychiatry 


Media contact: Jessica Cooper – jessica@arh.org.au

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