$1.7 million NIH grant supports rigorous study of resiliency in abused children
Two young brothers close in age lived in a crack house and then suffered further abuse in foster care. The older was a polite B student, the younger had multiple, intractable psychiatric problems. Why was one child resilient and the other terribly damaged by the same experiences?
That's what Yo Jackson, associate professor of clinical child psychology and child psychologist, wanted to know when she co-counseled the brothers early in her career and that's what she hopes to learn from a major five-year National Institutes of Health grant that will study what she calls the "process of resiliency" in children.
While resiliency in children has been studied for at least 50 years, it is only now that there is statistical methodology that will allow Jackson and her colleagues to look at multiple environmental influences at the same time and over time.
Foster children and their foster parents in Jackson, County, Missouri, are the focus of her study. "While the great majority of children exposed to maltreatment are never removed from their homes, foster children are those whose maltreatment has risen to a certain threshold such that they have been removed from their homes," Jackson explained.
Jackson said that the project will be able to provide those who design and implement programs for foster children with the necessary tools to be systematic about what they do. "Our project is the first step towards making meaningful change in translational research for this population by documenting the process of resiliency."
Jackson asserts that now there is a lot of trial and error, guessing and intuition about treating children who have been abused. "I'm fairly certain this study will net us quite a bit of counterintuitive results," Jackson predicted.
So who is the resilient child? Resilient children are not super children, says Jackson, and you would never guess what they had been through. "What we are really talking about is the everyday process about everyday accomplishments."
"The boy that I saw so many years ago was the older brother. He didn't really have any problems. He wasn't terrifically talented in anything. Did he have a hard time talking about his mom? Absolutely. But that's not weird or strange."
"If we can find out what that kid had or the process by which he managed his environment the way he did, maybe then we can teach it to other children. I don't know if it is even teachable, but that is my hope.