A socio-ecological approach to resilience

This page describes a socio-ecological approach to resilience based on excerpts from Supporting children and young people’s mental health: A guide for schools using a resilience-based approach a research-based guide created by Boingboing and the HeadStart Resilience Revolution.

Socio-ecological models 

Socio-ecological models were developed to further the understanding of the dynamic interrelations among various personal and environmental factors. The best-known socio-ecological theory is that of Urie Bronfenbrenner (1979) and his description of the environment (or social-ecology) at five different levels:

Microsystem (Child’s immediate environment) Mesosystem (How the different parts of the child’s environment work together to support the child) Exosystem (People and places that have an impact on the child’s life, such as parent’s workplace) Macrosystem (Government policies and cultural values) Chronosystem (The influence of change and constancy in a child’s environment)

These can be a useful tool for analysing a child’s or young person’s environment and context and helping us decide where to concentrate our effort. Working with a social-ecological approach to resilience means paying attention to the way a child’s environment (family, school, community and wider environment) can provide the support and resources needed for their healthy development, and targeting all of these dimensions when intervening.

The work of practitioners can not only positively influence children and young people in the microsystem but can also ‘ripple out’, making changes at wider system levels.

Unlike many traditional definitions for resilience that emphasise resilience as a personal characteristic, from a socio-ecological resilience emerges from system factors, rather than from within the individual. As Roisman, et al, (2002, p1216) put it in their definition (which we rather like):

‘Resilience is an emergent property of a hierarchically organized set of protective systems that cumulatively buffer the effects of adversity and can therefore rarely, if ever, be regarded as an intrinsic property of individuals.’

From this perspective resilience responses can involve modifying or transforming systemic adversities (e.g., challenging economic inequalities or stigma towards mental health problems). Where resilience is:

‘Overcoming adversity, whilst also potentially changing, or even dramatically transforming, (aspects of) that adversity.’ (Hart et al., 2016, p.3).

Or as we say in our Boingboing and Resilience Revolution community:

For Boingboing and the Resilience Revolution seeing resilience this way creates a social movement that looks to change systems rather than blame individuals for the challenges they face.

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