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Spring 99 Table of Contents
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What Makes Families Resilient?

By Jean Robinson, Family Support Specialist, TSBVI, VI Outreach

As a social worker and parent I have often wondered why some families and children do well in terrible circumstances and others, even with the best resources, do not. What factors determine which families stay together and which ones fall apart? When stressful events happen, how do families recover? Are there characteristics that increase the risk of adverse outcomes? Researchers with the Institute for Health and Disability at the University of Minnesota looked at family strengths in their study focusing on characteristics of families that contribute to positive outcomes. The top four indicators are:

How families explain and think about disability impacts their ability to move ahead and find stability. When they can explain the disability in such a way that makes sense to them and fits their beliefs, they are more likely to find coping strategies that allow them to move ahead with their lives. Resilience includes taking action to address a stressful situation. Resilient families actively learn about the disability and find needed services for their child. Better outcomes are found when families use flexibility in setting rules, establishing roles, and defining expectations.

These families have learned to work together. They learn interdependence with others and find a sense of coherence and balance in their life. They don't just survive, they thrive.

The next three articles validate the research. The first article, "If Only . . ." originally appeared in the Parent to Parent of Georgia newsletter, FOCUS, Summer, 1997. The second article, "Lessons Learned" by Cathy Allen was developed from a response to a parent on the CHARGE listserve, and Cathy graciously allowed us to share it with other families. It gives wonderful, practical strategies for families to maintain resilience. One strategy not mentioned in this article is Cathy's practice of keeping a journal that updates her extended family and friends through e-mail. She finds that it is a quick, easy way to keep loved ones up-to-date and is a form of "therapy" for her. The third article, written from a father's perspective, is titled "One Dad's Story." It first appeared in the Family to Family Network newsletter, published by Family to Family support organization in Houston. Accompanying these three articles is an article resulting from research done by the University of Minnesota on families of children with disabilities.

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Last Revision: September 4, 2003