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Building strong societies, one dad at a time

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2014 - Autumn


Much of the emphasis on resilience research and therapy centers on the individual—but according to Catherine Panter-Brick, D.Phil., professor of anthropology, health, and global affairs, societies can be better structured to “foster, rather than hinder,” the natural resilience of their citizens. Panter-Brick’s work in Afghanistan, Africa, the Middle East, the United Kingdom, and the United States offers insights into ways of “providing resources to people who are resourceful—helping them overcome dire circumstances and, when things get better, enhancing life opportunities rather than putting up barriers.”

One of the foundations of more-resilient societies is that they have in place the proper legal and economic structures that can expedite recovery well in advance of disasters. Achieving such macro-level transformations requires strong leadership, said Panter-Brick, who also works in the Child Study Center—but there is plenty that can be done without a Gandhi or a Mandela. She has been working on a program aimed at helping young fathers do a better job of rearing kids—which ultimately results in more-resilient dads and children. “We focus on men who’ve been involved in crime, and we’ve found that when they have fathered a baby, there’s a tipping point,” said Panter-Brick. “If we provide resources then—such as job training, housing assistance, and social support—we can change a young man’s trajectory and, in the process, use his resilience to bring about a better future for everyone.”

If engaged at the proper time with the right resources, other strong leverage points can help people do what most researchers feel is natural: bounce back, and in the best cases, grow. “I have a lot of faith in ordinary people and families,” said Panter-Brick.

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