Protective Factors in Family Relationships
Professor Sir Michael Rutter, the distinguished UK child psychiatrist, was one of the first to highlight that although there are many risk factors associated with poor child outcomes, there are also 'protective' factors which can mitigate the risks. Rutter's ideas, together with those of Bronfenbrenner (1979) who highlighted the importance of the wider ecology on children's development, have been at the core of the research at the Centre for Research into Parenting and Children in Oxford for over 20 years. This paper focuses on one domain of the Ecological framework: protective factors in family relationships. It discusses new brain research that shows that positive relationships in the early years have a measurable impact on the child's cognitive and emotional development and hypothesises that relationships with the wider family may also support better child outcomes. In Confucian societies, intergenerational family relationships are crucial in providing care for the elderly. As the 'One child' norm extends (not only in China) but across many Asian societies, the challenges for young people in supporting their parents and grandparents may become overwhelming. This article suggests families need state support to carry out their protective role in mitigating the risks experienced by both the young and the old. A state/family partnership approach is likely to be more acceptable, more effective, and more economic than state care alone.
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