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Child development: Vulnerability and resilience

by Patrice L. Engle, Sarah Castle, Purnima Menon
Social Science & Medicine ()

Abstract

Many of the challenges facing children now are a function of changing times, including increase in urbanization, political violence, changing family forms, and in some areas decreased supplies of adequate food. This review focuses particularly on those changes in which children are the victims and which induce new threats for them, rather than on problems such as child disability or mental illness. The outcome variables of interest in this paper are dimensions of children's psychosocial development, including cognitive development, psychological adjustment and aggression, whereas the companion paper in this issue (Caldwell P., Child survival: vulnerability and resilience in adversity in the European past and the contemporary Third World, Soc. Sci. Med.) [1] focuses on physical aspects of children's development. The risks that are hurdles in the process of development of a young child begin from conception and carry on into later life. To address them all would be impossible; thus, in order to do justice to the issues at hand, we have chosen those risks that, in our view, are important in a child's psychosocial development in developing countries. This paper will thus provide a discussion of the concepts of risk and resilience, then apply these concepts to the analysis of three examples of risk faced by children today: nutritional threats (e.g. malnutrition due to decline in breastfeeding); family dynamics and types of family forms (e.g. child fostering and non-traditional families); and experiences of violence (domestic or political). In each case, the same four questions will be addressed: what are the consequences of the risk factor for children, what are the etiologies and conditions of risk, are there any children who seem to cope with the risk factor successfully and what are some of the protective factors, and what interventions or programs would help support these children?

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