Risk, Protective and Resilience factors for children

General risk factors

• high levels of family disharmony
• the presence of domestic violence
• physical, sexual or emotional abuse
• inconsistent, ambivalent or neglectful parenting
• lack of an appropriate balance between ‘care’ and control’ in upbringing
• lack of parental nurturing
• chaotic home environment
• the absence of a stable adult figure (such as a non-using parent, another family member or a teacher)
• parental loss following separation or divorce
• sibling’s (lack of) willingness to drink and actual drinking
• material deprivation and neglect
• the family not seeking help
• parent(s) who misuse drugs/alcohol or suffer from mental health problems

Substance specific factors for children of substance misusers

• both parents being substance misusers
• substance misuse taking place in the home
• greater severity of the problem 

parental drug (as opposed to alcohol) problem specific

• exposure to and awareness of criminal activity (e.g. drug dealing)
• presence of the child (though not necessarily in the same room) when drugs are taken
• witnessing someone inject drugs and seeing paraphernalia (e.g. lying around the home)

risk factors related to the individual

• early age of first alcohol / drug use (not sip)
• concurrent use of any substance
• truancy
• having been suspended from school
• perceived poor academic performance
• low future academic expectations
• low commitment to school
• having been in trouble with the police
• poor coping skills
• a lack of religious belief
• friendship with deviant peers
• favouring peer over family opinion
• and conduct or anti-social behaviour problems, at home or at school

protective factors

• the presence of a stable adult figure (usually a non substance misuser)
• close positive bond with at least one adult in a caring role (include parents, older siblings and grandparents)
• affection from members of their extended families
• a good support network beyond this
• low levels of separation from the primary carer in the first year of life
• positive family environments
• characteristics and positive care style of parents (a balance between the two dimensions of ‘care’ and control’, where ‘care’ includes parental support, warmth, nurturance, attachment, acceptance, cohesion, and love; and ‘control’ includes parental discipline, punishment, supervision, and monitoring); this balance means being responsive, expecting a lot from their children, but also being authoritative (as opposed to permissive, authoritarian, or indifferent)
• utilisation of rules and consequences, including having clear alcohol-specific rules, and experiencing strong parental supervision or monitoring of behaviour related to those rules
• parents having high expectations of them, and clear and open communication of both expectations (in this case about alcohol use (or non-use), but also generally for expectations) and potential disapproval if expectations are not met
• parental self efficacy
• spending significant time together as a family
• parental modelling of the behaviours expected of or wished for from their children
• having family responsibilities
• family observing traditions and rituals (cultural, religious, familial)
• being raised in a small family
• larger age gaps between siblings
• having a hobby or a creative talent or engagement in outside activities or interests (such as sport, singing, dancing, writing, drama, painting, etc) – anything that can provide an experience of success, and/or approbation from others for the child’s efforts
• successful school experience
• strong bonds with local community / community involvement
• easy temperament and disposition
• self-monitoring skills and self-control
• intellectual capacity
• a sense of humour,
• religion or faith in God
• positive opportunities at times of life transition, and
• living in a community where there is a sense of caring, mutual protection
• further, much research shows that, if family cohesion and harmony can be maintained in the face of substance misuse (or domestic violence or serious mental health problems), then there is a high chance that the child will not go on to have any problems.


Resilience factors or processes which these protective factors encourage

• deliberate planning by the child that their adult life will be different,
• high self-esteem and confidence,
• a sense of direction or mission,
• self-efficacy,
• an ability to deal with change,
• skills & values that lead to efficient use of personal ability,
• a good range of social problem solving skills,
• aspirations for the future,
• the young person feeling that they have/had choices,
• the young person feeling that they are/were in control of their lives, and
• previous experience of success and achievement.

The content of this list has been compiled by Professor Richard Velleman from the UK from a range of sources – more details available on request.