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Developing more resilience in children and communities

Medicine@Yale, 2019 - Feb March

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Joint program to counteract life-diminishing hardships in families and communities

Physicians, in their often-limited time with patients, try their best to zero in on a person’s deficits—his or her physical and emotional vulnerabilities—and find a way to shore them up. But it often is a person’s strength, an area on which physicians cannot always afford the time to focus, that can make the difference between sickness and health. That is especially true in children’s mental health.

“How do you foster that resilience in children, their ability to bend and not break in the face of challenging stressors?” asks Linda C. Mayes, MD, Arnold Gesell Professor of Child Psychiatry, Pediatrics, and Psychology, and chair of the Yale Child Study Center.

The new Yale Child Study Center-Scholastic Collaborative for Child and Family Resilience aims to answer that question. The two organizations anticipate a long-term alliance that will yield numerous methods to cultivate resilience in children, families, and communities that face ongoing adversity.

The Collaborative is not a program with a fixed endpoint. Instead, Scholastic, the global children’s publishing, education, and media company, and the Child Study Center expect the partnership to operate like a think tank, to which both will contribute and from which ideas will emerge organically and become concrete products and practices. Both groups see their individual differences as their collective strength. “We’re bringing together people who are immersed in the development of children’s literature with people who are immersed in the care of children’s mental health,” says Mayes. “In a partnership between a for-profit and a not-for-profit, there are interesting and different ways of thinking that come together, too.”

The Child Study Center and Scholastic started their work together in 2012 when they teamed up to pilot Discover Together in rural Grundy County, Tennessee. The literacy and place-based educational program aims to build community pride and strengthen relationships in order to develop family and community resilience.

“One of the biggest predictors of resilience is social connectedness, so our initial research question was, –Can literacy be used to foster those connections that build resilience?’ ” says Karen Baicker, publisher for family and community engagement curriculum at Scholastic.

Through the Discover Together program, parents and children learn storytelling. Parents can use the skills to instill in their children the sense of security they need in order to be resilient. Stories about family origins help children feel grounded. Stories about others overcoming adversity help children feel safe. “The single most developmentally nurturing condition is relationships,” says Mayes. “Having people around who can put adversity into context, help children come back to the baseline, and say, –You’re going to be ok.’ ”

For children who live in the shadow of poverty, addiction, or violence, stories are a vehicle for changing their circumstances. “If kids understand the idea of story, they can craft their own narratives and imagine different futures,” says Baicker.

Scholastic and the Child Study Center agree that education and well-being are inextricably linked. They expect their collaboration to result in numerous materials that will promote the two simultaneously. Among the ideas already on the table are to adapt Discover Together for other locations; to create classroom materials that destigmatize childhood mental health problems; and to develop a tool to assess the skills inherent in resilience.

Scholastic is the ideal partner for this work, says Mayes. “It stands out as a company that truly cares about children.”