Understanding resilience from the perspective of street involved children in Manila, Philippines

Author: Alisa Willis

Willis, Alisa, 2021 Understanding resilience from the perspective of street involved children in Manila, Philippines, Flinders University, College of Business, Government and Law

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This study seeks to understand resilience from the perspective of street-involved children in Manila, Philippines, exploring their perceptions of resilience, that is, moving from “adversity” to “doing well”, in the context of lives characterised by extreme deprivation and marginalisation from mainstream society. The major original contribution of this thesis is to propose a political dimension to resilience that dominant conceptions, used widely in the development of policy and interventions, have largely ignored. Twenty-five street-involved children between 11 and 18 years of age participated in the study while under the care and protection of Bahay Tuluyan, a grassroots community organisation in Manila, Philippines that works to ensure children’s rights are respected, protected and fulfilled. Drawing on child-focused research methods, this study acknowledges children as experts in their own lives and, as such, offered choice and participation at all stages of the research process. Children engaged in a range of qualitative data collection methods including “walk and talk” child-led tours of their environment. These methods enabled children to demonstrate to the researcher the complex processes in which they engage, drawing on resources in themselves, their relationships, community and culture in order to overcome self-described conditions of “adversity”, and travel towards their conception of “doing well”.

The dominant conception of resilience has emerged from the Minority World, with studies undertaken by expert researchers who have defined children as resilient when they meet normative conceptions of healthy functioning in children. These studies define adverse circumstances in the context of Western industrialised societies and identify indicators of “doing well” based on ethnocentric conceptions of development and of desirable child behaviours. These assumptions are contested by a handful of Filipino studies which have investigated the lives of street-involved children, with researchers suggesting a culturally nuanced conception of resilience associated with children demonstrating outcomes and behaviours that are considered desirable in Filipino society including adherence to collectivist values and relationships of mutual obligation.

Children in this study perceived “adversity” to be a collective experience they shared with their families, and other street-involved children who are marginalised and subject to oppressive government policies. Their perceptions of “doing well” included drawing on personal, relational, community and cultural resources as they engage in day-to day activities to manage the effects of marginalisation, as well as making strategic decisions to effect long-term change in their own lives, and the lives of others. This study makes an original contribution by suggesting that street-involved children perceive resilience to be an overtly political construct that includes personal and collective acts of agency as they seek to ensure that their rights, and the rights of others, are observed and upheld.

To explore this conception of resilience, this thesis brings together Ruth Lister’s use of the “Othering” discourse, and her “taxonomy of agency”, with Michael Ungar’s “social-ecological” approach to resilience. This study will extend current understandings of resilience to suggest that children’s personal and collective acts of political agency are legitimate forms of resilience that are currently under-examined in the resilience discourse.

Keywords: resilience, street children, street involved children, adversity, doing well, Bahay Tuluyan, agency, rights, resistance, oppression

Subject: Sociology thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2021
School: College of Business, Government and Law
Supervisor: Gerry Redmond