Resilience of children in disasters: A multisystem perspective

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Interest in resilience is surging in research, policy and practice as threats from disasters rise and humanity confronts a global pandemic. This commentary highlights the importance of defining resilience for portability across system levels and disciplines in order to integrate knowledge and prepare adequately for the challenges posed to children and youth by multisystem disasters. A scalable definition of resilience is recommended: The capacity of a dynamic system to adapt successfully to challenges that threaten the function, survival or development of the system. Major determinants of adaptation among young people in the context of disaster are highlighted, including variations in adversity exposure dose, developmental timing, individual differences and the socio-ecological systems of children's lives that can be mobilised in response. Adaptation of children in disasters depends on the resilience of interconnected systems, including families, schools, communities and policy sectors. Implications of a multisystem perspective for disaster risk reduction and preparedness are discussed with a focus on nurturing the resilience of children and their societies for challenges in the near term and long into the future.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-11
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Psychology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 16 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Beginning in 2005, a resilience network on “Building an Interdisciplinary Study of Resilience” (Longstaff, 2009 ) was funded by the National Science Foundation as part of their “human dynamics” initiative. This small network of investigators from disparate disciplines, including this author, focused on integrating theory and findings to improve disaster response to complex, multisystem disasters. It was soon clear that this formidable task required a better alignment of definitions and ideas in order to harmonise and assemble knowledge and practice from different research and intervention traditions. Success was facilitated by adopting a scenario approach, focusing on mass‐trauma multisystem disasters, such as pandemics or hurricanes. Based on a symposium presented by network members at the first international conference on resilience (“Resilience 2008”; sponsored by the Swedish Academy of Sciences and the Resilience Alliance), the network published a set of articles in a special feature of on “Managing Surprises in Complex Systems” (Masten & Obradović, 2008 ). Ecology and Society

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 International Union of Psychological Science


  • Protective
  • Risk
  • Socio-ecological
  • Surge capacity
  • System


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