Building, supporting and enhancing agency in the middle years

Year: 2012

Author: Hickey, Chris, Hanewald, Ria

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Childhood resilience has been defined as the process, the capacity or the outcome of successful adjustment in young people despite adverse circumstances (Masten, Best and Garmezy, 1990). In the educational literature the concept of resilience has been described with a number of indicators such as disruptive behaviour, social and emotional problems which label children 'at risk'.  Howards, Dryden and Johnson (1999) consider environmental factors individually or collectively reduce or enhance a young person's chances to thrive, including the socioeconomic and geographic context and the social connections of young people. Specifically, it is young people's associations, involvements with and engagement in activities within their families, school communities and the wider community that support and enhance resilience. Particular localities in Australia offer fewer opportunities for young people's participation in community activities than others. Disadvantage such as lacking infrastructure and services are caused by location, which in turn affect access to sporting clubs, church organized events and organised by charitable organizations (i.e. Brotherhood of St Laurence, Salvation Army, Youth Focus). The major focus in this paper is on the unpacking of the conditions under which resilience is produced and the various elements considered by students that have contributed to this. Interviews with four male and seven female young people (11-13 years) involved in this longitudinal study explore the range of factors and social relationships that have helped them in dealing with adversity. In reflecting on their lived experience, they often identified one adult either in their school or religious community as trusted person and their champion, with that particular relationship fostering their sense of belonging and well-being. Social acceptance, connection with and support from their peers either in school (i.e. the classroom, extra-curricular activities or leadership programs), in recreational activities (i.e. team sports, scouts group) or those organised by religious institutions (i.e. Youth group) was also a crucial. Young people's agency was supported by engagement in familial, peer and community activities and by participating in a range of pursuits. This was at times challenging as transportation, financial contributions and scheduling commitments had to be negotiated with their parents and/or peers.


Howard, S., Dryden, J., and Johnson, B (1999). Childhood Resilience: Review and critique of literature,   Oxford Review of Education, 25:3, 307-323

Masten, A., Best, K. and Garmezy, N. (1990). Resilience and development: contributions from the study of   children who overcome adversity, Development and Psychopathology, 2, pp. 425- 444.