Home > Adversity in childhood – outcomes, risk and resilience.

Morgan, Mark and Rochford, Sarah and Sheehan, Aideen (2016) Adversity in childhood – outcomes, risk and resilience. Dublin: Centre for Effective Services. Access Evidence no. 1.

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Few topics can provoke as strong and emotive a response as the unfortunate, negative experiences that can happen to a child. The issue of adversity features regularly in literature, sociology, political discourse and in the media. The impact of adverse events on children and the understanding of how adversity happens has been a very influential area of work in psychology and health, and has generated a major body of research and theory. This report reviews the evidence and research on adversity in childhood, and considers some implications for front line practitioners who work with children and young people.

This report begins with an overview of what is meant by adversity, and describes different types of adversity. It then looks at how single and multiple adverse experiences affect children differently; it examines the consequences of adversity and it considers how adverse events affect children throughout their lives. Some key facts and figures on different types of adversity are included. The report discusses the concept of resilience and considers how it can be promoted among children. While adversity may be caused by external structural factors that pose considerable challenges from a policy perspective (e.g. poverty), practitioners have a key role to play in promoting resilience. As it is challenging to make generalisations about different forms of adversity, the report focuses on three different examples in some detail. These examples are featured in this report as ‘Spotlights’. A short glossary of terms is included at the end of the report.

This report contains a rapid review of the literature in the area of childhood adversity and how it affects children during their lives. It does not claim to be a systematic review or an exhaustive account, or indeed a review that covers all of the types of adversities that children, young people and families may experience. As this is an area of the literature that is both incredibly expansive and diverse, the report focuses on existing summaries, large-scale longitudinal studies and a smaller number of individual studies, where relevant.

The appendices to the report include helpful frameworks, assessments, online resources and evidence-based and evidence-informed programmes which may be of interest to practitioners working with families, children and young people facing some form of adversity.

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