“Reach out, I’ll be there”: Awakening Resilience Across Communities

Barbara M. Burns, Ph.D.

About this Event

Before the COVID pandemic, the culture was already awakening to a new consciousness about the impact of early childhood adversities on learning, behavior and health.  Recent discoveries from developmental neurobiology, child development, and trauma science had shown that harsh and unresponsive caregiving during early childhood resulted in disrupted stress regulation systems in the developing brain. In addition, stressful family and community environments had been linked to specific pre-academic, social and health challenges in preschoolers. In response to these findings, new approaches to child abuse prevention started to focus on the need to mitigate young children’s adversities through parent education. The science of resilience has effectively provided the blueprints for a “behavioral therapeutic vaccine” that could buffer the negative impacts of early childhood adversity. 

In this presentation, I will describe our work to establish a mindfulness-based parent education program designed to strengthen family resilience. This approach shares principles from grassroots community action initiatives. Community leaders act as coaches and guides to discuss parenting stressors, adverse childhood experiences, early child development, and community strengths.  Families learn ways to practice responsive and nurturing behaviors (called habits of resilience) during family routines. The results from this initiative, although preliminary, show great promise. Following the six-workshop program, parents have shown increased family functioning and resiliency, nurturing and attachment, and parenting knowledge. They have also reported increases in connecting to other social and community services. 

To prevent the harsh legacy of early childhood adversities for a generation of young children, we must find innovative ways to provide effective parent education across communities and reinforce a culture of resilience in children, families and communities. In the context of the COVID pandemic, the need for parent education based on the science of resilience has become even more urgent. We hope that these ideas about community-driven parent education capture your imagination and inspire new ways to awaken resilience across your communities and support primary prevention of child abuse.

At the end of the talk, participants will:

  1. Recognize that sciences, human services, and the popular culture are beginning to fully understand the impact of early childhood adversities on learning, behavior and health.  
  2. Appreciate the need for sensitive and nurturing caregiving in young children as a buffer or ‘therapeutic behavioral vaccine’ for early childhood adversities. 
  3. Learn about a parent education program based on the science of resilience which is designed as community-driven primary prevention of child abuse.  



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About the Presenter

Barbara Burns

Barbara M. Burns, Ph.D.

Barbara M. Burns, Ph.D. is a developmental psychologist and Professor of Child Studies at Santa Clara University. For more than 35 years, Dr. Burns has been studying the roots of resilience in young children experiencing adversity and trauma. Safe, Secure and Loved is a mindfulness-based parenting program designed to be facilitated by community leaders. Through her partnership with Sacred Heart Community Service (San Jose, CA), Safe, Secure and Loved is now established as a neighbor-to-neighbor parenting program in San Jose and Gilroy, CA. Parents who participate in Safe, Secure and Loved show increases in the protective factors associated with effective child maltreatment prevention. Community leaders who facilitate Safe, Secure and Loved parent groups report increases in confidence, social connections, and commitment to community.

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