Academic journal article Family Relations

Child, Family, and Community Protective Factors in the Development of Children's Early Conduct Problems

Academic journal article Family Relations

Child, Family, and Community Protective Factors in the Development of Children's Early Conduct Problems

Article excerpt

Over the past several decades, the concept of resilience has gained prominence as a way to study the processes and mechanisms through which exposure to risk factors may be associated with children's positive and negative outcomes. The term resilience has been defined as a positive outcome in the context of adversity (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000), and centers on the study of various child, family, and community protective factors that may be associated with positive adjustment despite exposure to risk factors. Early resilience researchers defined protective factors as those variables that interacted with risk status to predict outcome (Garmezy, Masten, & Tellegen, 1984; Rutter, 1987); that is, only variables that were more strongly associated with positive outcomes in the context of high risk, as opposed to low risk, were considered to be protective. However, in recent years this term has been used to refer to all factors associated with positive outcomes in high-risk groups, regardless of whether relationships are stronger for children living in high-risk contexts (Luthar & Zelazo, 2003).

Another important issue in resilience research is the operationalization of "positive outcome" as either the absence of a negative outcome (e.g., psychopathology) or the presence of a positive outcome, such as academic competence, social competence, or meeting appropriate developmental milestones (Luthar et al., 2000). Although the absence of a negative outcome does not necessarily translate to the presence of positive outcomes (e.g., low antisocial behavior may not indicate high school achievement), there is still benefit in studying the absence of negative outcomes, based on their high impact on the affected individuals and society at large. Indeed, utilizing a resilience approach to studying the high-risk situations under which negative outcomes do not occur can provide essential information for prevention and intervention efforts aimed at guiding public policy and social programs to improve outcomes for children at risk.

Conduct problems (CP), such as aggression, theft, or fire-setting, are one high-impact negative outcome that place a great burden on society, requiring services from schools, mental health centers, and the judicial system (Kazdin, 1996). CP identified as early as age 3 have been found to be associated with more serious forms of antisocial behavior in adolescence and adulthood (Henry, Caspi, Moffitt, & Silva, 1996; Shaw & Gross, 2008), and as such, toddlerhood can be a window of opportunity for early intervention efforts aimed at altering trajectories of early-starting antisocial behavior. Although it is informative to examine risk factors associated with the development of CP, a resilience model investigating factors associated with decreases in CP or the maintenance of low CP over time could provide a different and useful perspective. Understanding such protective factors is particularly important given that not all children who exhibit high levels of CP in toddlerhood persist (Campbell, Shaw, & Gilliom, 2000; Shaw, Gilliom, Ingoldsby, & Nagin, 2003; Tremblay, 2000). Identifying predictors that differentiate between desisters and persisters can help detect children who are at risk for CP and more serious forms of antisocial behavior. In addition, protective factors that are related to desistance may be particularly beneficial to target and promote in intervention as they may have greater potential to change developmental trajectories already in motion, rather than to simply maintain positive outcomes.

Although there are many studies examining the development of CP, including some that have been initiated during early childhood (Aguilar, Sroufe, Egeland, & Carlson, 2000; Campbell, Pierce, Moore, & Marakovitz, 1996; Moffitt, Caspi, Harrington, & Milne, 2002; Shaw et al., 2003), there are few studies that have utilized a resilience model to examine protective factors associated with low CP in early childhood in the context of high levels of sociodemographic, family, and child risk. …

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