Thriving Babies, Confident Parents


The Thriving Babies Programme utilises a number of theoretical models which fit with the Signs of Safety practice framework. Underpinned by the research about childhood adversity and what promotes healthy childhood development. Along with the research that promotes parental and family resilience. This resource page brings together the different models and what we know works from research to help practitioners see how these align to the Signs of Safety practice framework.

Theory & Research

There is a large body of research that helps to understand what contributes to, or derails, healthy child development and builds resilience.

Dr. Michael Ungar, in his work with the International Resilience project, has suggested that resilience is better understood as follows:

"In the context of exposure to significant adversity, resilience is both the capacity of individuals to navigate their way to the psychological, social, cultural, and physical resources that sustain their well-being, and their capacity individually and collectively to negotiate for these resources to be provided in culturally meaningful ways."

This definition shifts our understanding of resilience from an individual concept to a more culturally embedded understanding of well-being. Understood this way, resilience is a social construct that identifies both processes and outcomes associated with what people themselves term well-being. It makes explicit that resilience is more likely to occur when we provide the services, supports and health resources that make it more likely for every child to do well in ways that are meaningful to his or her family and community. In this sense, resilience is the result of both successful navigation to resources and negotiation for resources to be provided in meaningful ways.

The Resilience and Vulnerability Matrix, by Daniel and Wassal (2002), provides a useful way to organise the evidence of this wide body of knowledge to help practitioners during their ongoing work with families. The model is laid out below along with those key factors identified in research that would be more pertinent to infants. (Not exhaustive)


Characteristics the enhance normal development under difficult conditions.


Life events or circumstances posing a threat to healthy development.

Protective Factors

Factors in the child’s environment acting as buffers to the negative effects of adverse experiences.


Characteristics of the child, the family circle and wider community which might threaten healthy development. 

A partnership between:

Daniel and Wassal’s Resilience and vulnerability matrix


Characteristics the enhance normal development under difficult conditions.


  • Good attachment
  • At least one responsive adult
  • Good self-esteem/positive outlook
  • Sociable
  • Social networks outside the family
  • Peer acceptance and friendship
  • High IQ (attainment as proxy)
  • Positive parenting
  • Developing talents and interest
  • Home routines


  • •lexible temperament
  • Problem-solving skills
  • Financial wellbeing
  • Physical wellbeing
  • Basic needs
  • Belonging / culture
  • Positive thinking structure
  • Accountability
  • Love from others
  • Sense of control
  • Opportunities for good times
  • Comfortable with self
  • Goals and aspirations
  • Supportive relationships
  • A powerful identity

Protective Factors

Factors in the child’s environment acting as buffers to the negative effects of adverse experiences.

  • Attendance at clinic for immunisations and developmental reviews.
  • Regular supportive help from primary health care team and social services, including consistent day care.
  • An alternative, safe and supportive residence for mothers subject to violence and the threat of violence.
  • The presence of an alternative or supplementary caring adult who can respond to the developmental needs of the baby.
  • Wider family support and good community facilities.
  • Sufficient income support and good physical standards in the home.
  • Parent acknowledges difficulties and is able to access and accept supports.
  • Parenting knowledge
  • Supervision and monitoring of children, a strong bond to at least one parent figure, a warm and supportive relationship, abundant attention during the first year of life, parental agreement on family values and morals
  • Structure: rules and household responsibilities for all members
  • Family size: four or fewer children spaced at least two years apart


Characteristics of the child, the family circle and wider community which might threaten healthy development. 

Child considerations

• Developmental delay

• Mental health, learning, behavioural difficulties

• Difficult temperament

• Premature birth/low birth weight/early prolonged separation at birth

• Babies born with drug/substance withdrawal

• Cries frequently, difficult to comfort

• Difficulties in feeding/toileting

• Fearful of parent or caregiver

• Illness requiring ongoing medical treatment


• Poor understanding of child’s needs and development

• Low self-esteem/poor identity

• History of multiple relationships

• Communication difficulties

• Limited life skills and problem solving abilities

• Poor impulse control

• Poor self-control / emotional regulation

• Violence in past relationships

• Rigid authoritarian attitude

• Carer defers to partner for response

• Physical illness which impairs parenting ability

Child - parent interaction

• Lack of empathy for the child

• Adult prioritises own needs over child’s

• Lack of interest in child and insensitive to their needs

• Child perceived as difficult by parent

• Attributing negative attitudes and labels to child’s behaviour

• Unrealistic expectations of child

• Unable or unwilling to respond to child’s needs

• Poor attachment

Social and environment

• Extended family stressors

• Lack of/or absence of social supports

• Highly mobile families

• Home environment chaotic, hazardous or unsafe

• Chaotic sleeping arrangements – child/adult

• Emotional stressors (conflict, finance, illness)

• Separation conflict

• Family misuse substances

• Conflicts of family honour

• Number and frequency of visitors to family home is unknown


Life events or circumstances posing a threat to healthy development.

Individual Factors

• Life events/crisis

• Illness, loss, bereavement

• Verbal abuse

• Physical abuse

• Sexual abuse

• Emotional abuse

• Neglect (emotional / physical)

• Experience of war

• Foster care

• Incarceration


  • Poverty
  • Witnessing IPV
  • Parental separation
  • A caregiver w/mental illness A caregiver w/addiction
  • A caregiver who was incarcerated.


  • Witness community violence
  • Adverse community
  • Felt Discrimination
  • Bullied


  • 1. Calder, Martin C.. Risk in Child Protection: Assessment Challenges and Frameworks for Practice (Assessment in Childcare) (p. 209). Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Kindle Edition.
  • 2. Cronholm PF, Forke CM, Wade R, Bair-Merritt MH, Davis M, Harkins-Schwarz M, Pachter LM, Fein JA. Adverse Childhood Experiences: Expanding the Concept of Adversity. Am J Prev Med. 2015 Sep;49(3):354-61.

What is the relationship between resilience, vulnerability, protective and experiences of adversity?

How do resilience factors mitigate adversity?

Resilient with

high adversity

Resilience Factors

How do protective factors promote resilience?

Resilient with

protective environment


Protective factors

Vulnerable with

high adversity

Vulnerbility factors

Vulnerable with

protective environment

How do adverse factors relate to vulnerability?

How do lack of protective factors increase vulnerability?

How do the protective factors address vulnerability?

Applying Signs of Safety

With many of the families we work with there is likely information of the family history available to professionals to make use of prior to any engagement with them. This will likely be information about parental experiences of adversity, current resilience and protective factors. While there will be common vulnerabilities for infants. 

This allows use to be able to develop clear statements so that we are able to convey our worries that are bespoke to the family and educative. With care and appreciative inquiry we are allowing for more discussion about past experiences along with hopes for the future. Allowing, with parents, to consider how worrying behaviours, family functioning or interactions impact on the child. This becomes the building blocks of danger statements co-developed with the parents. 

In turn, safety goals are developed from thinking about what behaviours need to be seen to promote both protective factors and resilience for the child, and, reduce vulnerabilities. Ideally, developed in partnership with the family and professionals. 

How (next steps) those goals to increase the protective factors and the child’s overall health and wellbeing (resilience) are achieved are informed through the use of the standardised measures. Which during discussion of the tools more detailed understanding of worries and strengths of the parents are understood. Allowing for a bespoke collaborative effort to discuss the next steps with shared ownership of any intervention with the family.






As work with the family progresses ‘what we are worried about’ and ‘what is working well’ is reviewed with the parents, and, incorporating the subsequent use of the questionnaires and again taking in all available information. Using the scaling the question(s) developed from the start of the intervention this would be completed in partnership with the parents, family network and professionals.

Considering both historic and current information with clear behavioural detail and understanding of how adult behaviours and circumstances impact the child, a judgement needs to be made in the form of scaling (0 - 10). For example,

On a scale from 0 to 10, where 0 means that the parents have little attachment with their child, there continues to be no attendance at appointments and the child continues to be experiencing arguing between the parents, and, where 10 means the child is being seen at all appointments, the parents have been responsive to the child’s emotions, physical, developmental needs and have a strong effective support network that is actively helping the parents.

Everyone should score and provide their own rationale for giving the judgement they have given, with clear examples. Each scaling is followed with a rationale where professionals and parents provide examples of who is doing what to promote the child’s health and wellbeing (resilience) or who is doing what that sees the harm / vulnerability continuing to be present / increasing or who / what is making things complicated at this time.

Only when the safety goals (developed earlier), meaning there are cores of 10 for that goal, should the intervention end. This requires that we develop realistic and relevant safety goals.

To help support the management of risk is the Risk Matrix. The risk matrix provides a guide for helping professionals to consider what form of intervention may be required as work with the family progresses.

Adversity & Vulnerbility factors

Resilience & Protective factors

Other Standardised Measures & Resources

The Thriving Babies Programme utilises a key set of questionaries (standardised measures) which have been agreed to be used routinely with those families in our work. However, there are a number of other evidence based questionaries and tools that can be helpful to complement our work. See the Practice Resources page that gathers and organises additional resources to use in your work. To open up conversation and explore, in more depth, aspects of family functioning. Helping to identify links between factors of the Resilience and Vulnerability model.

© 2021-22 Stephen Brock

Developed by: Stephen Brock, M.S.W., Social Work Consultant.


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