Friday, May 13, 2016

Stability......the Key to Success!

In my professional readings, I recently discovered a 2013 research synthesis by Heather Sandstrom and Sandra Huerta on the negative effects of instability on child development. As these things often do, it got me thinking about real world applications, specifically, some of the cases we work through our I CARE program.

Sandstrom and Huerta's work discovered the following:
"Children thrive in stable and nurturing environments where they have a routine and know what to expect. But a large number of children face instability at some point in their lives. They experience change in individual or family circumstances that is abrupt, involuntary, and/or in a negative direction."
Five areas of instability are examined: family income, parental employment, family structure, housing and the out-of-home contexts of school and child care. The research also studies some of the key pathways through which instability may affect development and suggests policy and practice to alleviate this devastating effect. The article can be found at this link. If you work with kids, especially those who live in poverty and may lack adequate resources, I strongly encourage you to read it. The information is eye-opening and provides some real answers to problems that seem to plague many of the kids in our school system and district.

Recently, our program intervened in a situation in which an elementary-aged child, who had suffered the loss of her mother, was being uprooted by her father to move away to a new city and state. Many of those close to the child (church members, teachers, friends of the family) begged and pleaded with the father to avoid this move if possible. The move was related to employment and was also optional. The concern was that the child who already dealing with grief related to the loss of her mother, would also have to cope with the changes associated with the loss of her friends, school, church members and community.  Consultation on the issue didn't change the dad's mind, and I began to reflect on the number of cases I worked as a specialist in which the child's way of life was impacted by instability.  Frequent residence changes, changes in co-cohabitants in the home, abrupt and sudden changes in school enrollment and attendance, and a lack of life routines were common threads in many of my students lives.  

In facing the many challenges of life, parents can sometimes overlook the importance of stability in the life of a child.  Living in the same home for an extended period of time, attending the same school, and experiencing shared life routines with family and friends, are an important, and sometimes overlooked, protective factor in the life of a child.  Stability can act as a buffer to substance abuse, mental health issues, and other challenges in life.  Stability can also act as a facilitator for resilience and a "boosting" of those personal characteristics that contribute to academic and everyday success.

My best advice to parents......even when you are faced with uncertainty and upheaval, do your very best to shield your child from the unnecessary and unhealthy effects of change.  Your effort could be the key in contributing to your child's long term success.

Sandstrom and Huerta.  "The Negative Effects of Instability on Child Development: A Research Synthesis" The Urban Institute. September 2013