Young people - resilience

Using resilience as an evaluation criteria for young people

Research has consistently shown that parental mental illness is a risk factor for poor developmental outcomes in children and adolescents. The longevity of parental mental illness, its potential impact on parent-child attachment, and the stress associated with periods of acute illness are viewed as factors that may negatively affect the child or adolescent's health, psychosocial competence and future psychopathology. However, some young people live in these circumstances but still seem to adapt and thrive despite the pressures they face. Such children and adolescents are viewed as resilient individuals.

Programs and interventions aiming to improve resilience in young people might focus on providing them with additional protective factors and/or ways to reduce or mitigate their risk factors.

Click on the headings below to read more.

Resilience - the concept

Resilience has received a growing amount of attention in psychology over the last 30 years in response to a movement away from a deficit view of the individual towards a strengths-based view.

This research has focused on both the psychological and physiological aspects of resilience. Resilience was first viewed as something extraordinary but currently it is argued that resilience reflects the basic operation of human adaptational systems and therefore may be more common than initially thought.

This section focuses on the features of resilience, protective factors that have been identified to improve resilience in children and adolescents, and the relationship of resilience to risk. Common aspects of the many definitions of resilience will also be examined, and measures designed to assess this concept reviewed.

Theoretical background

Many theories have been proposed to explain the concept of resilience, emerging from the areas of cognitive psychology, personality and biology: at the date of writing, no one theory offers a comprehensive explanation of the phenomenon.

Masten (2001) argues that resilience reflects the successful operation of the body's adaptational systems. If such systems are functioning well and are protected, coping and appropriate development will follow. If such systems are not functioning properly or are damaged as a result of risk factors and adversity, the potential for developmental problems is much greater. In such cases, the degree of developmental disruption is related to the duration of exposure to environmental hazards. For example, an eight-year-old child exposed to a period of postnatal depression upon the birth of a new sister is less likely to experience a threat to her development compared with an eight year old child whose mother has had repeated hospitalisations due to psychotic episodes resulting from schizophrenia.

Resilience can only be demonstrated after exposure to a significant stressor, or risk, that may potentially disrupt normal development. If no such stressor is experienced, there is no way of knowing whether the individual will be able to successfully cope and return to normal levels of functioning and development.

Resilience represents the dynamic interaction between factors that threaten the individual (vulnerability or risks) and protective resources (protection or assets) (Ahern et al., 2006). Risk factors may occur in isolation (eg a car accident) or culminate at one point in time (eg an acute episode of parental mental illness, bullying at school, and exposure to a violent crime).

Resilience should not be conceptualised as a one-dimensional attribute that the child either does or does not have. Rather, resilience consists of multiple skills, attributes and other protective factors in varying degrees that assist the individual to cope when faced with adversity (Alvord & Grados, 2005). Three categories of protective factors have been identified that promote resilience in children and adolescents:

  1. Temperamental or dispositional factors of the individual
  2. Family ties and cohesion
  3. External support systems (Hoge, Austin & Pollack, 2007).

Whilst not exhaustive, the following list outlines key protective factors identified by research.

Protective factors associated with resilience

Individual Family External support systems
  • Intelligence
  • Social skills
  • Self-regulation
  • Self-control
  • Proactive orientation
  • Self-esteem
  • Self-efficacy
  • Educational aspirations
  • Optimism
  • Creativity
  • Humour
  • Effective coping strategies
  • Future planning
  • At least one nurturing parent or surrogate caregiver
  • Responsive parenting style
  • Parents highlight child's areas of competence
  • Taking responsibility for younger siblings
  • Family cohesion
  • Socioeconomic status


  • Positive connections with peers
  • Connections with other adults (eg teachers, coaches, ministers)
  • Active engagement in school
  • Participation in extracurricular activities
  • Participation in activities that help the child feel they are making a contribution (eg volunteering)
  • Early intervention and support programs

Programs or interventions that aim to improve or increase the number of protective factors operate on the belief that if enough assets are added to the child's life development can be maintained at normal levels, as the increase in protective factors counterbalances the negative effects of the adversity.

Definition of resilience

A clear, universally accepted definition for resilience is difficult to find. However, common features can be found in the many definitions of resilience, such as:

  • the presence of human strengths
  • exposure to some kind of adversity (short-term trauma and/or ongoing stressors)
  • adaptive coping
  • positive outcomes despite exposure to adversity (Masten, 2001; Wald et al., 2006).

This review will define resilience as 'the process of, capacity for, or outcome of successful adaptation despite challenging or threatening circumstances' (Masten, Best & Garmezy, 1990, p.426).

There are strong conceptual relationships between resilience and other psychological concepts. Other terms frequently used in the literature on resilience are defined below.

Hardiness: This term consists of three interrelated dispositional traits:

  1. A sense of control over one's life
  2. Commitment - seeing life activities as important so believing it is possible to find meaning in life events
  3. An openness to viewing change and adversity as a challenge (Kobasa, 1979)

Hardiness is believed to be a personality trait that enhances and enables people to be resilient.

Protective factors: 'Influences that modify, ameliorate, or alter a person's response to some environmental hazard that predisposes them to a maladaptive outcome' (Rutter, 1985, p.600).

Thriving: Physical or psychological thriving represents 'decreased reactivity in subsequent stressors, faster recovery from subsequent stressors, or a consistently higher level of functioning' (Carver, 1998, p.245). The distinction between thriving and resilience is that thriving represents the attainment of a level of functioning that exceeds the pre-adversity level, while resilience represents a return to one's pre-trauma level of functioning (Wald et al., 2006).

A concept emerging in the literature is family resilience, defined as a family's positive adjustment in the face of challenging life conditions (Gardner et al., 2008). According to Simon, Murphy and Smith (2005), the three dimensions that influence family resilience are:

  1. Length of the adverse situation (ie short-term versus long-term)
  2. Life stage in which the family experiences the adversity (eg family with preschoolers versus family with adolescents)
  3. The internal and external resources the family uses to adapt to the adversity (eg drawing on extended family, relying on individual strengths, receiving social support from school)

Related concepts are resilient communities (Walsh, 2007) and resilient neighborhoods (Mowbray et al., 2007). These concepts have generally been applied to responses to trauma and natural disasters, and focus upon community connectedness, social communication, and renewed hope for the future.

Measures of resilience

There are multiple resilience measures, however not all have adequate psychometric properties and some may lack strong research support. Therefore, care should be taken when considering which measure to use. For a summary of resilience measures see Table 3 in the Ahern et al. (2006) paper 'A review of instruments measuring resilience'. Additional details are provided in the report by Wald et al. (2006). See 'Key readings' for details.

The Resilience Scale (RS)

Based on the theoretical position that resilience represents a positive personality characteristic, the RS aims to identify the level of individual resilience. The scale has two factors, personal competence and acceptance of self. Whilst originally developed for use in adults, it has been widely used in research with adolescents.

Structure of the measure

The scale contains 25 items which are rated on a seven-point Likert scale. The scale provides a single score with higher scores representing higher levels of resilience.

Construct validity

The RS has demonstrated high correlations with well-established measures of concepts linked with resilience. Additionally, the RS correlates highly with outcomes of resilience.


A range of studies have reported strong internal consistency for this measure. Internal consistency ratings range from 0.76-0.91, constituting an acceptable to excellent level of reliability. Test-retest reliabilities have been reported to range from 0.67-0.84.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

In the review of resilience scales conducted by Ahern et al. (2006), this scale received the highest rating and was deemed to have superior psychometric properties compared to other resilience scales. The RS has also demonstrated its usefulness with adolescent populations, a feature missing from some of the other scales of resilience.

Availability of the scale

The measure is freely available for use from the Resilience Scale website.

Resiliency Scales for Children and Adolescents: A Profile of Personal Strengths (RSCA)

These measures assess the resilience of individuals aged 9-18 years. The measures are suitable for use in clinical, school and therapeutic group settings. Considerable information is available on the web about the RSCA (eg a review by the Friends National Resource Centre for Community Based Child Abuse Prevention).

Structure of the measures

The RSCA consists of three scales that measure different aspects of perceived strength and vulnerability. Each scale is 20-24 items long. The scales can be used in combination or as stand-alone instruments.

The three areas assessed are:

  • Sense of mastery
  • Sense of relatedness
  • Emotional reactivity.

Construct validity

Little validity information is reported, however correlations between the scales indicate that they are related yet separate concepts.


Internal consistency ratings range from 0.93-0.95, constituting an excellent level of reliability. Test-retest reliability is reported to range from 0.70-0.92.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

At this point the RSCA has not been widely used in research. An advantage it has over other scales is that the measures are developed specifically for children and adolescents and therefore provide age-appropriate norms.

Availability of the scale

The measure is available for purchase from Pearson.

Social-Emotional Assets and Resilience Scales (SEARS)

The SEARS is a series of scales designed to measure resilience using multiple informants (child or adolescent, teacher, and parent). The SEARS is in the final stages of development by the Oregon Resiliency Project at the University of Oregon at the date of writing. It is anticipated that the SEARS will be suitable for use in screening, assessment and decision making, intervention planning, intervention monitoring and evaluation, program evaluation, and research.

Structure of the measure

The SEARS range in length from 52-54 items depending on the informant. The topics covered by the scales include:

  • Problem-solving
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Friendships
  • Coping with adversity
  • Optimism in the face of adversity.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

The SEARS is in the final stages of development with the standardisation and norming research. Preliminary research results and availability information can be obtained from the developers at the Strong Kids website.

Construct validity

Unavailable at this time.


Unavailable at this time

Availability of the scale

The scales are available for download from the Strong Kids website

Resilience and Youth Development Module (RYDM)

This module is from the larger California Healthy Kids Survey. The scale is based on research and theory and aims to assess internal and external factors that assist in positive youth development, academic success and protection from risk-taking behaviours.

Structure of the measure

The scale contains 56 self-report items that cover the following domains:

  • School protective factors
  • Community protective factors
  • Internal protective factors
  • Peer protective factors
  • Home protective factors
  • Youth connectedness to school, home, community and peer group.

Construct validity

The RYDM Handbook states that the measure has demonstrated construct validity for each asset measure. Further information regarding construct validity for ethnic group, gender and resilience outcomes is detailed in the report 'Measuring resilience and youth development: the psychometric properties of the Healthy Kids Survey'.


This report detailing the psychometric properties of the RYDM concludes that the secondary school scales have good reliability, with internal consistency coefficients ranging from 0.73-0.90. The reliability of the primary school version is lower, with internal consistency coefficients ranging from 0.36-0.71. The developers recommend NOT using the subscales measuring meaningful participation and goals or aspirations for 'research and evaluation requiring precise measurement'. For further information see 'Measuring resilience and youth development: the psychometric properties of the Healthy Kids Survey'.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

A useful book that details resiliency theory, research and use of the RYDM is: Benard, B. (2003). Resiliency: What have we learned? San Francisco, CA: WestEd.
The paper 'Measuring protective factors and resilience traits in youth: The Healthy Kids Resilience Assessment' details the development of the module.

Availability of the scale

The measure is freely available from the WestEd website.

A range of other information is available from the WestEd site, including research reports, an outline of resilience theory and the RYDM intervention supplement.

Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC)

This scale examines resilience from the theoretical position of adaptation that views resilience as the ability to successfully cope with stress.

Structure of the measure

The measure consists of a 25-item scale in which participants respond using a 5-point Likert scale. Factor analysis reveals five factors summarised as:

  1. Personal competence
  2. Tolerance of negative affect
  3. Positive acceptance of change and secure relationships
  4. Control
  5. Spiritual influences.

Construct validity

The CD-RISC has demonstrated strong relationships with other resilience measures such as the Hardiness Scale. A negative relationship with stress measures has also been reported, suggesting that higher resilience ratings are associated with lower levels of perceived stress.


Internal consistency is reported as 0.89, and test-retest reliability as 0.87.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

According to the review conducted by Ahern et al. (2006), the CD-RISC has only been used in three studies involving patients with psychiatric disorders. Consequently, Ahern et al. concluded that the CD-RISC has potential due to good psychometric properties but its usefulness with adolescents needs to be further developed.

Details of the scale's development are outlined in the article: Connor, K.M., & Davidson, J. R. T. (2003). Development of a new resilience scale: the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC). Depression and Anxiety, 18, 76-82.

Availability of the scale

Unavailable at this time. 

Baruth Protective Factors Inventory (BPFI)

This scale examines resilience from the theoretical position of primary protective factors.

Structure of the measure

The BPFI is a 16-item measure that examines the four protective factors:

  1. adaptable personality
  2. supportive environments
  3. fewer stressors
  4. compensating experiences.

Construct validity

Preliminary data demonstrating correlations with the Multidimensional Health Profile: Psychological Functioning suggests that construct validity is acceptable.


The combined items in the entire scale yield an internal consistency coefficient of 0.83. The subscale reliabilities are: adaptable personality = 0.76; supportive environments = 0.98; fewer stressors = 0.55; and compensating experiences = 0.83.

Evaluation and/or research that has used this measure

The BPFI has not been used in any published studies apart from Baruth and Caroll (2002). Further data is required to ensure scale reliability and validity. The summary by Ahern et al. (2006) concluded that at present the scale is unsuitable for use with adolescents due to the lack of research with this age group.

Availability of the scale

The scale is included in the article detailing its development: Baruth, K. E. & Carroll, J. J. (2002). A formal assessment of resilience: the Baruth Protective Factors Inventory. Journal of Individual Psychology, 58, 235-44.

Programs or interventions

Many COPMI programs have the aim of improving resilience. Many measure aspects of resilience, such as the multiple protective factors listed in the table in the 'Theoretical background' section. Examples of programs include:

Key readings

Ahern, N. R., Kiehl, E. M., Sole, M. L. & Byers, J. (2006). A review of instruments measuring resilience. Issues in Comprehensive Pediatric Nursing, 29, 103-25.

Alvord, M. K. & Gardos, J. J. (2005). Enhancing resilience in children: a proactive approach. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 36, 238-45.
This paper provides a very good summary of protective factors associated with resilience and outlines methods to enhance such protective factors in group intervention environments.

Baruth, K. E. & Carroll, J. J. (2002). A formal assessment of resilience: the Baruth Protective Factors Inventory. Journal of Individual Psychology, 58, 235-44.

Goldstein, Sam
Erica Pitman has kindly provided a one-page summary of the resilience concept - see Resilience - taken from the work of Sam Goldstein.

Masten, A. S. (2001). Ordinary magic: resilience processes in development. American Psychologist, 56, 227-38.

Search Institute (Minnesota)
This website provides information about the link between assets, resilience and youth outcomes.

Tusaie, K. & Dyer, J. (2004). Resilience: a historical review of the construct. Holistic Nursing Practice, 18, 3-8.

Wald, J., Taylor, S., Asmundson, G. J. G., Jang, K. L., Stapleton, J. & McCreary, D. (2006). Literature review of concepts: psychological resiliency. Viewed 18 September 2009.
This paper is available for free download. However, you must register with the site to access the paper. The report is very detailed and provides a comprehensive examination of resilience theories and measures, with many full length measures included.

Other references

Benard, B. (2003). Resiliency: what have we learned? San Francisco, CA: WestEd.

Carver, C. S. (1998). Resilience and thriving: issues, models, and linkages. Journal of Social Issues, 54, 2, 245?66.

Connor, K.M., & Davidson, J. R. T. (2003). Development of a new resilience scale: the Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC). Depression and Anxiety, 18, 76-82.

Gardner, D. L., Huber, C. H., Steiner, R. L., Vázquez, L. A. & Savage, T. A. (2008). The development and validation of the Inventory of Family Protective Factors: a brief assessment for family counseling. The Family Journal, 16, 2, 107-17.

Hoge, E. A., Austin, E. D. & Pollack, M. H. (2007). Resilience: research evidence and conceptual considerations for posttraumatic stress disorder. Depression and Anxiety, 24, 2, 139-52.

Kobasa, S. C. (1979). Stressful life events, personality, and health: an inquiry into hardiness. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 1, 1-11.

Masten, A.S., Best, K.M. & Garmezy, N. (1990). Resilience and development: contributions from the study of children who overcome adversity. Development and Psychopathology, 2, 425-44.

Mowbray, C. T., Woolley, M. E., Grogan-Kaylor, A., Gant, L. M., Gilster, M. E. & Shanks, T. R. (2007). Neighborhood research from a spatially oriented strengths perspective. Journal of Community Psychology, 35, 5, 667-80.

Rutter, M. (1985). Resilience in the face of adversity: protective factors and resistance to psychiatric disorder. The British Journal of Psychiatry, 147, 598-611.

Simon, J. B., Murphy, J. J. & Smith, S. M. (2005). Understanding and fostering family resilience. The Family Journal, 13, 4, 427-36.

Walsh, F. (2007). Traumatic loss and major disasters: strengthening family and community resilience. Family Process, 46, 2, 207-27.

WestEd. (2007). Measuring resilience and youth development: the psychometric properties of the Healthy Kids Survey. Available for download.