Risk and resilience: how stress processes may explain variation in children's school engagement outcomes during a period of inevitable risk

  • Timothy Michael Hobbs

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisPhD


Risk and protective factor models have made, and will continue to make, a significant contribution to our understanding of child development and the services that may prevent or alleviate impairments to children's health and development. Despite this, the models are a rather blunt instrument and do not adequately explain the wide variation in children's outcomes in response to risk or adversity. If services are to be more effective we need to also better understand the mechanisms underlying the translation of risk to outcome: the study of resilience.

Contemporary resilience research is largely preoccupied with understanding variation in outcomes in response to extreme forms of risk and adversity, such as exposure to violence or severe deprivation. This is congruent with the overriding focus of policy and practice on risk-reduction strategies and interventions targeted to the relatively small proportion of the population with impairments to their health and development. I argue that understanding the processes by which children deal with inevitable or normative risks, such as family conflict or predictable transitions at school, may hold more promise. To this end, a modest longitudinal study was designed in order to assess what contribution a model of resilience – grounded upon physiological and psychological stress processes – may add over and above a model of risk and protection in explaining variation in outcome following a period of inevitable risk.

Whilst detriments in outcome following inevitable risk were observed for many children, for a sizeable minority – distinguished by their psychological stress appraisal processes – the risk offered an opportunity for improved outcomes. The implication is that orthodox risk-reducing policy and practice interventions may miss important opportunities to equip children with the skills and resources necessary to be resilient to the risks that they will inevitably face as they grow up.

Date of Award29 Jun 2011
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Bath
SupervisorM Little (Supervisor) & Ian Butler (Supervisor)

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