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How to foster resilience: learning from outcomes of survivors life stories to foster development and growth of children out of home


Background. Today, the concept of resilience is significant regarding children living in a vulnerable family, or children who suffered the trauma of being removed from their families for a defined period of life (foster care or residential care) or definitively (adoption). To know the protective factors (PF) could be very important in order to support and foster the process of identity development and construction within different contexts: family, school, community.

We found many examples of resilient people while conducting research on the traumatic experiences of Jewish children during the Holocaust, in particular "hidden children" and the children who fled Nazi persecution via emigration.

Although we are aware of the singularity of the survivors' experiences, we hypothesized some similarities between the experiences of hidden children and children out of home.

The research is focused on the outcomes of life story of people passed trough vulnerability and is made in order to get useful elements to be used when working with vulnerable children and family social care.

Purpose. The main goal of this research was to study life stories of children survived to the Holocaust (in particular hidden children) in order to identify those protective factors which then/ enabled them to develop and grow.

We aimed to identify PF in order to help facilitate similar resilient responses amongst children currently out of home. The project hypothesis were:

  • social work can learn from life story of Holocaust survivors,
  • it is possible to improve our understanding of human development protective factors through the longitudinal analysis of life stories of resilient people, in order to gain elements to foster resilience in children out of home,
  • there are aspects (axiological, behavioural, relational, cognitive, social, affective) belonging to Jewish culture, that could contribute to foster the survivors'ability to arise, rebuild their lives and resist traumatic events.

Method. The research consists in of 2 parts:

1. qualitative: using a biographical approach; material was collected via 12 semi-structured, in-depth interviews with survivors; video interviews; documentaries; and archival collections concerning 21 hidden children (United States Holocaust Memorial Museum); analysis of 8 biographical published texts. We also carried out handmade and automated (Atlas.ti and Taltac) content analysis.

2. quantitative: setting up and use of the instrument for Mapping Protective Factors - based on the instrument level of protection in life space (LPSV, Fondazione Zancan, 2005) - which let to highlight:

  • the qualitative subdivision of protective factors into individual, familial and social;
  • the temporal axis divided into three periods - pre, during, post trauma - in which protective factors occur.

Findings. According to the first results, as referring to children out of home, the research shows that the riskiest factor is not children's belonging to two families but not granting them a continuity into their personal and familiar story:

  • keeping the relationship with "significant adults" (parents, foster parents, siblings, social workers, other adults), who took part in the child's personal story as "development tutor";
  • supporting cultural double bound (familial, social, religious) by avoiding biographical cuts and promoting the embrace and integration of different belonging contexts;
  • supporting the construction processes of "new identity", helping people to integrate new situations into their personal storyies with loyalty and truth;
  • supporting parents in building relationships with children based on presence, relational stability, deep acceptance and sense of belonging to a culture and a value system that allows children to develop belonging and continuity.

The instrument for Mapping Protective Factors was useful to register and synthesize PF presence. It cannot be used as a quantitative evaluation instrument but it could be used to summarize and consider PF in the assessment of foster care processes.

Key references

Pourtois J.P., Desmet H. (2000): Relation familiale et Résilience. Paris: L'Harmattan.

Vanistendael S., Lacomte J. (2000), Le Bonheur est toujours possible. Construire la résilience. Paris: Bayard.

Sonnert G., Holton G. (2006): What happened to the children who fled Nazi persecution. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Contacts: Marco Ius, Dipartimento di Scienze dell'Educazione, Università di Padova, Piazza Capitaniato, 3, 35139 Padova, Italy, E-mail: marco.ius@unipd.it, Phone +39 049 827 4544, Fax +39 049 827 4569.

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