Dear Dena,

I keep hearing from social workers and case managers that “children are resilient.”  What they seem to mean by this is that kids will rebound from traumatic situations and multiple placements and placement disruptions.  I am struggling to accept this and find it hard to believe that kids keep on being “resilient” after so much transition and loss. Could you share your thoughts on this?


Hoping for Resilience


Dear Hoping,

While I understand where people come from when they point to the resiliency of children, what is often missing in the conversation is the reality of how resilience is formed.  Resilience is a quality of secure attachment in children.  Safe, consistent caregivers who see and hear their children, who meet their needs in consistent manners without disruption of care and continuity, and who are nurturing in predictable ways create resiliency in children.

By definition, children in our care have NOT had the opportunity to create this kind of attachments with their first parents.  Additionally, if our children have had multiple placements (like almost all kids in care) or have had abuse, neglect, or experienced traumatic incidents (like almost all kids in care) their opportunities to develop resilience have been denied.  It is clear, therefore, that “children are resilient” isn’t accurate with our children. We do, however, owe them a chance to develop this kind of resiliency.

Placement decisions should always be based upon this understanding of attachment and resiliency.   Therefore, multiple moves should be avoided and permanency should be an early goal.  Moving children from a foster-home for any reason other than neglect or abuse should be unheard of.   

While temporary care is sometimes necessary, our courts and our child-welfare systems are obligated to minimize this harm. Additionally, there is a moral duty to value permanency above politics and special interest groups who advocate for birth-parents at the cost of the children we supposedly serve.  We want our birth-parents to succeed and become competent parents who are able to provide safe, secure attachment relationships with their children, yet we have to accept that reality than drug and alcohol addiction is the most common reason kids come into care and therefore we are looking at a long, uphill battle for stability.  Kids cannot continue to pay the price for this by remaining in temporary care and going back and forth from care to parents. This undermines their ability to attach and to develop the resilience they will need to grow into healthy adults.

-Dena Johnson MA, LMHC

Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Attachment-Trauma Focused Therapist, TBRI Practitioner