Protective Factors

What are protective factors?

They are characteristics or conditions that reduce or buffer the effects of risk, stress, or trauma. A protective factor is an asset of some kind.

For example:

  • A skill, personal attribute, or supportive relationship
  • A community that offers supportive services

Why protective factors?

  • Research has shown that the promotion of protective factors is a key intervention strategy that can improve social and emotional well-being in children and youth.
  • Children who have experienced or are at risk for maltreatment, trauma, and/or exposure to violence can be a highly vulnerable population, however
  • Outcomes for children can substantially improve by helping children and their families build protective factors.

For many years and in many cases, even now, the child abuse prevention field focused primarily on risk—how likely abuse or neglect might occur when risk factors are present. Risks, such as poverty, trauma, and disabilities, among others, are known to contribute to the likelihood that a child might be abused or neglected.

Yet most families—even those in risk—do not abuse or neglect their children. Certain conditions, when present in families’ lives, help them to overcome the odds that could otherwise lead to tragedy. Those conditions are protective factors.

Outcomes for children affected by trauma can be improved by helping them and their families build protective factors. In other words, protective factors help to mitigate risks; they can help families to weather life’s stress and trauma with less damage. Through building protective factors we can help families develop assets and skills for handling life’s challenges more effectively.

To learn more about what the research tells us about protective factors, please visit Research and Protective Factors

Specific Protective Factors

Research in the field is growing and we now understand there are many protective factors. FRIENDS, through its work with the Children’s Bureau, has concentrated primarily on six protective factors that are frequently a focus of prevention services in the CBCAP community. These are highlighted in the annual Prevention Resource Guide.

Clicking on each protective factor below will show a detailed description and how parents and programs can implement activities that help to build that protective factor.

Other Frameworks

Early work in protective factors focused on early childhood, but over time, work has expanded to understand the impact of protective factors over the lifespan and how they can be built in individuals, families, and communities. The research and efforts across the spectrum continue to expand and develop.

There are many organizations engaged in this work, but the ones that most closely relate to our work in child abuse prevention are Administration for Children, Youth, and Families; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Center for the Study of Social Policy/ Strengthening Families. Let’s explore some of that work.