An exploratory study of the nature of family resilience
Coyle, James Patrick
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Resilient families are able to adapt to adversities, but the nature of family resilience is not well understood. A resilience perspective suggests that protective factors can ameliorate the impact of risk factors resulting in positive developmental outcomes. Previous studies have examined the impact of risks on families, the presence of specific protective factors, and successful outcomes. However, there is no clear explanation of how combinations of protective factors work together to produce family resilience. This study investigated empirical support for operational definitions of these protective factors. It asked whether there is a typology of family protective factors derived from family beliefs, adaptability, cohesion, communication, and problem-solving measures. It examined the relationships between this typology and the level of risk, available combinations of protective factors, developmental outcomes, and family demographic differences. It also questioned whether family resilience occurs on a continuum. Cross-sectional data was analyzed from ethnically-diverse, American and Canadian families ( N = 674), who had at least one parent with an alcohol abuse problem and a child between ages 9- and 12-years. Responses from both parents and children were used to better describe family processes. Cluster analyses of family protective factors were followed by multivariate assessments of the relationships between protective, risk, and outcome factors. The study results suggested a family resilience continuum composed of a three-cluster typology of family protective factors, in which families had above average, average, or below average family functioning in all the derivation variables. This typology was associated with parenting, family influence on child self esteem, children's perception of teacher caring, and ethnicity. However it was not related to current life events, parent alcohol use, and other extra-familial protective factors. Empirical support for operational measures of family resilience components are presented, and the implications for future research and social work practice are discussed.