Children exposed to social adversity—hardship as a result of social circumstances such as poverty or intergenerational trauma—are at increased risk of poor outcomes across the life course. Understanding what promotes resilient outcomes is essential for the development of evidence informed intervention strategies. We conducted a systematic review to identify how child resilience is measured and what factors are associated with resilient outcomes.
Systematic search conducted in CINAHL, MEDLINE and PsychInfo from January 2004 to October 2018 using the keywords ‘resilien* and child* in the title or abstract. Eligible studies: (1) described children aged 5–12 years; (2) identified exposure to social adversity; (3) identified resilience; and (4) investigated factors associated with resilience.
(1) approaches to identifying resilience and (2) factors associated with resilient outcomes.
From 1979 studies retrieved, 30 studies met the inclusion criteria. Most studies were moderate to high quality, with low cultural competency. Social adversity exposures included poverty, parent loss, maltreatment and war. Only two studies used a measure of child resilience; neither was psychometrically validated. Remaining studies classified children as resilient if they showed positive outcomes (eg, mental health or academic achievement) despite adversity. A range of child, family, school and community factors were associated with resilient outcomes, with individual factors most commonly investigated. The best available evidence was for cognitive skills, emotion regulation, relationships with caregivers and academic engagement.
While there is huge variation in the type and severity of adversity that children experience, there is some evidence that specific individual, relational and school factors are associated with resilient outcomes across a range of contexts. Such factors provide an important starting point for effective public health interventions to promote resilience and to prevent or ameliorate the immediate and long-term impacts of social adversity on children.