Investing in Children, Youth, Families, and Communities: Strengths-Based Research and Policy

By Symons, Doug | Canadian Psychology, February 2005 | Go to article overview

Investing in Children, Youth, Families, and Communities: Strengths-Based Research and Policy


Symons, Doug, Canadian Psychology


KENNETH I. MATON, CYNTHIA J. SCHELLENBACH, BONNIE J. LEADBEATER, and ANDREA L. SOLARZ (Eds.) Investing in Children, Youth, Families, and Communities: Strengths-Based Research and Policy Washington, DC: American Psychological Association, 2004, 376 pages (ISBN 1-59147-062-5, US$49.95 Hardcover) Reviewed by DOUG SYMONS

There is a poignant scene in the movie Apollo 13 in which the managers at Mission Control receive a litany of information about systems that are not working in the ill-fated space ship. The flight controller, played by Ed Harris, gets frustrated with this negative information, and immediately shifts the mind-set by asking the question, "Can you tell me what on that space craft is working?" The shift of attention is therefore from the problems to the positives; from deficits to assets.

The same kind of mind-set shift is contained in the edited book "Investing in Children, Youth, Families, and Communities, " which advocates a strengths-based approach to family-based research and social policy. Instead of deficit-based models of social problems, resiliency models are advocated in which factors associated with competence and positive developmental outcome are identified and promoted (see Masten & Coatsworth, 1998). Instead of an emphasis on diagnostic issues for existing problems, prevention is stressed so that negative outcomes do not arise and positive outcomes do. This rationale resonates with community psychologists (e.g., Rappaport & Seidman, 2000) and family practitioners, which should not be surprising given that this APA publication was supported by APA's Divisions 27 (Community Psychology) and 37 (Child, Youth, and Family Services). In Canada, the current Zeitgeists of wellness, health promotion, and family support services are all consistent with this volume.

This book consists of 19 chapters. Three opening chapters lay out the principles of strengths-based approaches to research and public policy for children and families. The next seven chapters address specific topic areas in which children are known to be at-risk for negative outcomes of various kinds. These include separation and divorce, abuse and neglect, witnessing domestic violence, teenage parenting, alcoholic parents, and pediatric chronic illness. Each chapter specifies resiliency factors in which positive child outcomes result in these social contexts, as well as social policies designed to promote these positive outcomes. For example, within the chapter on public policy for children of divorce, the promotion of positive relationships between children and both custodial and noncustodial parents is stressed, as well as the importance of co-parenting in an amicable fashion (see Budd, 2001; Stahl, 1994). This chapter also describes the proliferation of mandatory parent divorce education programs in the United States. These programs are similar to parent information programs in Canada that have come into existence through provincial Ministries of Justice, with the support of the federal government.

Eight chapters are committed to a variety of community-based programs. These are based on the needs of inner-city youth, children, and adolescents in schools, young people from African-American and Latino backgrounds, and children with issues getting along with peers. These chapters also lay out prevention-oriented programs designed to promote positive outcomes in youth and their families, and a number of specific examples of programs with demonstrated effectiveness are described in each of these topics, and public policy considerations are considered throughout. There is some variability here on the relevance of these chapters to the Canadian context, given significant differences between the United States and Canada in healthcare delivery systems, education within provincial jurisdictions, and approach to multiculturalism and bilingualism. The examples given are almost exclusively American, with one exception being the school-based bullying programs of Craig and Pepler (1997). …

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