Protective factors are qualities of individuals and conditions in families and communities that serve to preserve and promote child and family well-being. They function as buffers, mitigating risk for child abuse and neglect and promoting resilience, which is the ability to successfully and positively adapt to circumstances that threaten well-being. In this chapter, the authors draw on literature from within and beyond the field of child maltreatment prevention to present findings that can inform prevention efforts. The chapter addresses: (1) the emergence of protective factors and resilience as a focus of practice and research, (2) the growing evidence of the importance of focusing on protective factors and resilience in child maltreatment prevention, (3) examples of innovative programming and research efforts that specifically focus on strengthening families by promoting protective factors and enhancing resilience, (4) how these types of promotional approaches can be taken to scale, and (5) research and policy initiatives with the potential to inform program planning.
- Protective factors
- Strengths-based approaches
- Promotion of child wellbeing
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Editors and Affiliations
Reflections: Protective Factor Frameworks and Public Policy
Reflections: Protective Factor Frameworks and Public Policy
The emergence of protective factor frameworks has been a significant boon for the field of child and family services. When, in 2003, the Center for the Study of Social Policy (CSSP) released its list of protective factors for strengthening families and preventing child abuse and neglect, it created a wave of momentum that helped drive a new focus on achieving positive outcomes instead of simply avoiding negative ones. The true genius of the CSSP study was the simplicity and directness of its message. Choosing to focus on five factors—parental resilience, social connections, concrete support in times of need, knowledge of parenting and child development, and social and emotional competence of children—the study gave policymakers and practitioners something accessible that could be easily transformed into powerful, targeted programs.
Now it is time that we in the child services community take the next steps towards improving these frameworks by refining our use of protective factors. Protective factors are not one-size-fits-all prescriptions to the problems facing vulnerable children and families. The literature makes clear that different problems faced by children and families may require different solutions. The original CSSP framework was intended to prevent child abuse and neglect, but for other problems or challenges—such as homeless youth—a different set of protective factors may be needed. During my time at the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families, we commissioned a report titled Protective Factors for In-Risk Populations Served by the Administration on Children, Youth, and Families. The report, released in 2013, showed a large variance in the evidence linking different protective factors to positive outcomes in the five populations on which the study focused. This indicated that customizing protective factor frameworks for different populations could lead to better outcomes.
But beyond simply identifying which factors apply to which populations, we also must continue to ensure that the factors we have chosen are indeed the correct ones, and that our decisions are backed up by scientific evidence. It is crucial that we take the current momentum we have built and use it to drive programs that are both effective and meticulously scrutinized. Our ACYF study followed this approach by identifying the strength of the evidence connecting each preventive factor to positive outcomes for our five targeted populations.
Protective factor frameworks should be recognized for the successes they have achieved. But they should also be seen as an opportunity, something to build upon by refining our methods and improving the quality and accuracy of our solutions. Each step we take towards crafting better-targeted and more scientifically rigorous programs is another step towards improving the lives of our country’s children and their families.
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Walsh, T.B., McCourt, S.N., Rostad, W.L., Byers, K., Ocasio, K. (2015). Promoting Protective Factors and Strengthening Resilience. In: Daro, D., Cohn Donnelly, A., Huang, L., Powell, B. (eds) Advances in Child Abuse Prevention Knowledge. Child Maltreatment, vol 5. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-16327-7_9
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