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Systemic resilience in youth justice
Systemic resilience focuses on strengthening the protective factors around the child including within their family, their community, and local services.

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Strengthening protective factors

The latest (29 April 2022) publication in the probation inspectorate’s Academic Insights series is written by Dr Alex Chard and summarises the concept of Systemic Resilience which brings together systemic thinking and resilience theory. Moving beyond an individualised view that locates resilience as a requirement of the child, it recognises the importance of strengthening the protective factors around the child including within their family, their community, and in the services that are available.

Dr Chard developed the concept of systemic resilience in response to his research work in the youth justice field, particularly the growing recognition that so many young people in contact with the CJS suffer Adverse Childhood Experiences – and the fact that their parents and important others have often experienced trauma too. He developed a research framework he called ALTAR (see the graphic reproduced below). The ALTAR™ framework is predicated on an understanding that risk of harm and risk of offending, and in particular serious offending, has to be understood within the overall context of a child’s life. Risk is not just based upon individual risk factors but is also located within the family history and the experience of the child.

For children in the youth justice system, Mr Chard says it is always important to recognise that the risks that need to be managed are multi-dimensional. They include the risk of the child reoffending and of harming others but also include the risk that the child may come to harm. He highlights the fact that harm may be caused to the child either as a consequence of their own behaviours or because of harm by others either within their family or more widely. Dr Chard argues that applying Systemic Resilience enables all of these dimensions to be addressed.


Enabling systemic resilience

Dr Chard explains that many children in the justice system have not had the benefits of the protective factors associated with resilience (such as good parenting, good schools and self-belief); some have never been present in their lives, for others they have been lost or taken away. He says that systemic resilience involves a continuous process with the involvement of a wide range of statutory, voluntary and community resources from birth:

© Alex Chard

Dr Chard sets out seven key implications for youth justice to adopt an approach based on this concept of systemic resilience. He argues that the very complex needs of this group of children and their families also strongly indicates that any effective response has to be delivered on an inter-agency basis including through a highly resilient, skilled and well-resourced multi-disciplinary team. He argues that Youth Offending Services are well place to develop this approach. The seven key implications are:

  1. developing services that place a meaningful relationship with the child and their family at the heart of service provision
  2. developing the capacity of parents (or carers) to effectively parent the child
  3. promoting positive relationships for the child in their families, schools and communities
  4. ensuring the child has access to effective, meaningful and engaging education
  5. developing the child’s self control and emotional regulation
  6. promoting the child’s self belief, self worth and sense of purpose and ambition
  7. enabling engagement with community resources that promote all of the above.


Dr Chard also points out that many vulnerable young people who become involved in exploitative relationships within gangs or County Lines drug dealing or who are sexually exploited are in urgent need of a systemic response which increases positive protective and empathic relationships from all the workers, family members and people in their local communities who are in contact with them.


Thanks to Karim Manjra for kind permission to use the header image in this post which was previously published on Unsplash.

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