This subject examines the ways in which social work understands the inner and outer world dimensions of human vulnerability, adaptation and resilience across the lifespan. The usefulness of theories of grief, stress and trauma for understanding individuals’ capacity for coping with adversity is examined critically, as are understandings of diversity.
It explores individual and environmental sources of risk and resilience. Stress, trauma and grief theories are examined as they apply across the lifespan. It also help to understand of a multidimensional approach to specific human experiences of adversity and diversity. Identify significant bio psychosocial-spiritual transitions across the lifespan and the influence of gender, class, ethnicity, sexuality, and other dimensions of diversity on these transitions
Critically assess the coping and adaptation processes of individual’s facing adversity and identify the implications for social work practice. Critically reflect on these theoretical perspectives and their implicit value assumptions as well as your own subjective positioning. Research on resilience has found a positive relationship between a number of individual traits and contextual variables and resistance to a variety of risk factors among children and adolescents.
Life span development theories commonly focus on ontogenesis and sequential mastery of skills, tasks, and abilities. Social work scholars have pointed out that a limitation of life span and other developmental theory is lack of attention to resilience (Greene, 2007; Robbins et al., 1998). The concept of resilience was developed to “describe relative resistance to psychosocial risk experiences” Longitudinal studies focused on typical and atypical child development informed theory formulation in developmental psychopathology and in an evolving resilience model
More recently, resilience research has examined the operation of these same factors in the young adult, middle-age, and elder life stages. Many article examines the historical and conceptual progression of the two developmental theories—life span and resiliency—and discusses their application to social work practice and education in human behavior in the social environment.
Another key life span concept associated with the life stage is seen as an age-related period of life characterized by predictable features, tensions, and changes and leads into a subsequent stage.
In order to enhance its viability as a foundation for best practices, life span theory must take the next steps in theory progression by Strengthening empirical support for both its micro and macro levels across life stages, including the incorporation of recent advances in human neuroscience evidence. Further development of models for middle and older adult life stages,
Differentiated by gender and ethnicity, is also needed. Continued attention must be paid to the dissemination of updated life span theory development by social work educators, text writers, and researchers. Some major developments in the field of resilience since its inception more than 40 years ago. The chapter is organized in four sections, the first one presenting a brief history of work on resilience.
The second section is devoted to elucidating critical features of research on this construct, highlighting three sets of issues: definitions and operationalization of the two constructs at its core, protective and vulnerability factors; distinctions between the construct of resilience and related constructs, such as competence and ego resiliency; and differences between resilience research and related fields, including risk research, prevention science, and positive psychology. The third section of the chapter is focused on major findings on vulnerability and protective factors.
These are discussed not only in terms of the specific factors found to modify risk within three broad categories–attributes of the family, community, and child–but also in terms of factors that exert strong effects across many risk conditions and those more idiosyncratic to specific risk contexts. The final section includes a summary of extant evidence in the field along with major considerations for future work on resilience across the life span.
Resilience is multi-sectoral. While there is no standard definition of resilience, resilience is an agenda shared by actors concerned with threats to development, whether financial, political, disaster, conflict or climate related. Its recent prominence is largely due to increasing concerns over the inadequacy of recurring humanitarian responses to address underlying vulnerabilities and the need to shift thinking towards achieving lasting impact.
It is important for all of our work in international development. Whether we are working in health, governance, infrastructure, livelihoods, economics, private sector or climate change, resilience is a term we should all understand. It crosses all development sectors.
However, this resource (and related resources) focuses on disasters, climate change, livelihoods, social protection and infrastructure. Below we show how other organisations and agencies have defined resilience. You will see that the definitions have a lot in common: All definitions can applied at different scales or layers of risk – e.g. individual, household, community, states and institutions. All require us to ask: resilience of who and to what? They require us to think about abilities to respond and timings of response. And to identify what stresses and what shocks.
Dfid’s Definition of Resilience
“The ability of countries, communities and households to manage change by maintaining or transforming living standards in the face of shocks or stresses without compromising their long term prospects”
Shocks are events that cause an immediate damaging impact. Covariate shocks such as natural disasters or spikes in food prices affect multiple households, communities or regions. Idiosyncratic shocks are smaller in scale – within a household, idiosyncratic shocks may include illness or death of a family member, loss of livestock or of employment. Stresses are less severe but often longer-term trends that have slow onset impacts and undermine existing systems over time. Shocks can be caused by long term or recurrent stresses that cause a system to reach ‘breaking point’ over time.
Defining resilience in context-specific ways Aspects of resilience that have been emphasized by different DFID country offices, as part of embedding programmes that build resilience are highlighted below. If you are DFID personnel you can contact the relevant office or, you can ask the Yammer Group to find out more: » Community-based resilience in the absence of strong government or withdrawal of services as part of a transition phase (Sudan, Uganda)
The combination of disaster risk management and climate change adaptation (Nepal, Bangladesh). Advocacy and influencing the government in countries where government is more capable (Malawi, Kenya); capacity development support where it is lacking (Sudan). Social protection mechanisms such as hunger or social safety nets, economic support ‘ladders’ (Kenya).
Investment in the nutrition of children (Kenya). Conflict analysis and conflict-sensitive ‘do no harm’ approaches (Sudan, Uganda). Resilience as a multi-level factor, i.e. that levels of system, community, and individual can each be resilient and that their respective views of what resilience is could be different and even incompatible .
Why Is Resilience Important?
The frequency and severity of weather-related hazards is increasing. Urbanisation will increase exposure and vulnerability. By 2050, 66% of the world’s population is projected to be urban (UN, 2014). The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment (IPCC, AR5) recognised that many global risks of climate change (heat stress, flooding, landslides, water scarcity) are concentrated in urban areas and that building resilient infrastructure systems could significantly reduce the urban population’s vulnerability and exposure.
Extreme weather events in the past 20 years have had an impact on more than four billion people, claiming over 600,000 lives and resulted in nearly $US 1.9 trillion in economic losses (Bringing resilience to scale, GFDRR, 2015). Resilience can be seen as a bridging construct to break down silos between different sectors/disciplines and provide a common agenda.
Although the approaches used for climate resilience change adaptation and disaster risk management originated from different disciplines, the two communities of practice are increasingly converging. Focusing on vulnerability and resilience lends a practical dimension to discussions of the relief-to-development continuum. Infrastructure investments should be planned as part of a climate resilient, low carbon development pathway.
The resilience concept recognises vulnerable communities as the key actors in their own future. Resilience-based analysis sees the response to stress as an opportunity to strengthen the community, household, or institution, or value chain.
Resilience can be a virtuous dynamic. Resilience fuels resilience. When resilient households, communities or systems are able to withstand minor shocks, this initial robustness may extend to other areas, creating a “snowball” effect of greater and greater resilience. This goes into reverse when systems are rigid.
Failure to overcome initial stressors compounds the inherent weakness of the rigid system. Resilience is not a fad Resilience is set to remain as a core part of the global agenda for at least the next decade – the Sustainable Development Goals specifically refer to building the resilience of the poor as well as resilient infrastructure and cities.
Resilience is an integral part of the Sendai Framework for DRR 2015-2030 (successor to the Hyogo Framework) as well as the World Humanitarian Summit that will take place in May 2016. Critics may see resilience as the latest development buzzword and the term has been criticised for being ill-defined (interesting ODI opinion piece – ‘The Relevance of ‘Resilience’) and hard to measure as well as for shifting the onus of recovery to populations ill-equipped to take it on.
Scales of Resilience: Resilience of Who/What
These scales should not be seen as mutually exclusive – there is overlap between needs at different scales. The International Climate Fund (ICF) fourth Key Performance Indicator (KPI 4) deals with resilience at individual level.
May face internal (‘idiosyncratic’) shocks such as illness, death/birth of family member, loss of livelihood or job, and external (‘covariate’) shocks – climatic or price shocks and climate stresses, reaction to seasonal shifts e.g. employment » May require support to maintain/enhance livelihoods assets (human, physical, natural, financial and social capital as per the Sustainable Livelihoods Framework).
Overlaps with individual considerations; households may also require support in accumulation or protection of household assets (e.g. land, livestock, property, labour) and diversification of income streams.
May have needs around responding to macro-shocks (economic, political e.g. conflict or climate disasters) and adapting to longer term stresses (e.g. slow on-set climatic change, urbanisation) » Social/community networks may require support in provision of formal and informal safety nets, infrastructure, community early warning systems, community microinsurance/micro-finance/savings schemes, migration as adaptation strategy
Resilience of infrastructure can relate to the integrity of a physical structure or individual infrastructure assets at community level. It can also refer to the resilience of infrastructure systems at national level. There is also the question of how infrastructure affects resilience of other systems and scales e.g. impact on the wellbeing and livelihood options of individuals, households and communities.
Maintaining long-term robust service delivery systems e.g. healthcare, education, water, transport and physical infrastructure – critical infrastructure and infrastructure systems » Functioning markets and private sector, e.g. to provide credit, finance or insurance to vulnerable people » Management of climate hazards and long term stresses, adaptation planning » Access to financial instruments for managing risk – contingent credits, emergency loans, insurance and international aid.
Dimensions of Resilience
The framing of resilience in terms of dimensions follows the recognition that a multi-dimensional approach is required to address multiple, interacting factors. A 2015 review1 of five frameworks (ACCRA, FAO, University of Florence, Oxfam and Tulane University) identified the following dimensions as consistently represented across the literature: » Assets » Income and food access » Access to services » Safety nets » Adaptive capacity.
Dfid’s Disaster Resilience Framework
This framework sets out the four elements (context, disturbance, capacity to deal with disturbance and reaction to disturbance) that should be considered in supporting resilience building through DFID’s operations. Many development interventions have focused on individual elements of the resilience framework e.g. disaster risk reduction (DRR) work has focused on reducing sensitivity and exposure to shocks, while livelihoods work has focused on adaptive capacity, looking at assets and diversification of income. Using resilience as a concept is intended to strengthen harmonisation between different programmes and disciplines e.g. DRR, social protection and climate change adaptation.
- Resilience of what?This is about identifying and strengthening resilience in a social group, socio-economic or political system, environmental context or institution.
- Disturbance ‘Resilience to what?’ Disturbances usually take the form of shocks (sudden, disaster-related or conflict-related shocks) or stresses (long-term trends e.g. natural resource degradation, demographic change). Countries often face multiple, inter-connected shocks and stresses.
- Capacity to deal with disturbance Ability of system/process to deal with the shock or stress. Based on the dimensions of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity. A key determinant of exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity is the set of resources/assets (see picture below) that can be utilised in the face of a stress or shock.
Exposure: Assessment of the magnitude and frequency of shocks or degree of stress. Sensitivity: The degree to which a system will be affected by, or respond to, a given shock or stress. Adaptive capacity: Ability of actors (individuals, communities, governments) to adjust to a disturbance, moderate potential damage, take advantage of opportunities and cope with the consequences of a change.
Reaction to Disturbance
Reaction might be a ‘bounce back better’, whereby capacities are enhanced or sensitivities are reduced, leaving a system that is more able to deal with future shocks and stresses (upward trajectory). An alternative reaction might be a ‘bounce back’ to a pre-existing condition (flat trajectory), or to ‘recover, but worse than before’ – with reduced capacities (downward trajectory). In the worst-case scenario, there is ‘collapse’, leading to a catastrophic reduction in capacity to cope in the future.
USAID’s Conceptual Framework for Resilience While recognising that the components of adaptive capacity are numerous and wide-ranging, USAID emphasises the five elements displayed on the left hand side of its conceptual framework. Equal importance is placed on ability to reduce risk through assessment, preparedness, mitigation, prevention, and social protection.
Linking Resilience to Risk and Adaptation
Resilience as an Adapted Risk Management Approach
An alternative approach to thinking about resilience is to recognise the similarities between risk management and resilience as organising frames. Risk and resilience approaches are both context-specific and share several characteristics:
- They provide a holistic framework for assessing systems and their interaction, from the household and communities through to the sub-national and national level.
- They emphasise capacities to manage hazards or disturbances.
- They help to explore options for dealing with uncertainty and change.
- They are proactive.
A system that is effective in managing risk through a range of options is likely to become more resilient to shocks and stresses. Managing risk in this context means reducing, transferring and sharing risk, preparing for recurrent, infrequent or unexpected events and responding or recovering efficiently (Mitchell, T. and Harris, K, 2012). While risk management has traditionally focused on quantifiable elements, e.g. physical or financial assets or quantitative data on hazards, resilience approaches aim to capture broader human vulnerabilities and capacities. (See ‘Risk Management’ resource for further information.)
The resilience concept also has implications for approaches to risk management in infrastructure developments. Traditionally, infrastructure planning considered the risks in the later stages of a project, but the need to consider resilience of people necessitates a multi-sector planning approach that looks at risks to livelihoods and wellbeing at the start. (See ‘Resilience in Infrastructure’ resource – and specifically the section on Risk Assessment and Overall Strategy Development and Joint Planning.)
Resilience and Adaptation
Adaptation is a sub-category of resilience, usually applied to climate change. Climate change will have an impact on climate ‘shocks’, e.g. storms, but will also lead to more gradual climatic changes (climate ‘stress’). Adaptation activities aim to lessen the impacts of stresses and shocks through reducing the vulnerability of human and natural systems and enhancing resilience. The diagram below shows the interaction between development, adaptation and disaster risk management, and external and internal change factors, on the vulnerability and resilience of a system or society.