Strengthening families: The relationship between hope, spirituality, resilience, and attachment among parents following adverse childhood experiences
Faith-based ministries and non-profit organizations focused on strengthening families and family preservation may wrap services around families, but may underestimate the intergenerational impact of childhood adversity and trauma on the family system. Understanding the neurological, educational, and health outcomes as a result of adverse childhood experiences is key to developing evidenced-based, therapeutic programs to best assist clients in strengthening the internal protective factors of hope, resilience, spirituality, and attachment, in an effort to avoid harmful intergenerational beliefs, attitudes, actions, and habits following their exit from programs. The aim of this online, mixed methods study was to examine the relationship between adverse childhood experiences and the internal protective factors of hope, resilience, spirituality, and attachment, through the lens of Attachment theory (Bowlby, 1957) and Resiliency theory (Walsh, 1996). The data collected in this study were obtained through participants in the Buckner Children and Family Services, Inc. Family Pathways Program. Participants were single parents, enrolled in a higher education program, between the ages of 18-45 years of age, male or female, and a resident at one of eight Family Pathways locations in Texas. The voluntary, confidential study was accessed online and consisted of questions from: a demographic questionnaire; the Adverse Childhood Experiences Questionnaire (ACES-Q), the Adult Hope Scale (AHS); the Resilience Scale (RS); the Spiritual Well-Being Scale (SWBS); and the Revised Adult Attachment Scale (RAAS). In addition, a total of five qualitative questions, one after each of the quantitative inventories, gathered additional insight from the participant’s viewpoint and responses were coded into themes. Pearson product-moment correlation analysis was used to examine the relationship between adversity and the internal protective factors of hope, resilience, spirituality and attachment. A response rate of 38% was achieved from a total of 134 possible participants. Yet, their demographic variables were representative of the overall program demographics. The respondents scored higher than the national average (12.5%) in overall ACEs scores with 60.8% of the population scoring 4 or more. The results of the quantitative data revealed that those with higher ACEs scores also had increased attachment anxiety. In the domain of ACEs Abuse, those who suffered physical, verbal, or sexual abuse as a child had a weak to moderate negative correlation with Hope, the subscale of Hope Pathway, Spirituality, the subscale of Spirituality Existential, and a strong negative correlation with the subscales of Attachment Depend and Attachment Close. Those who experienced greater Household Dysfunction correlated positively with Resilience. Qualitative data identified strength-based themes of responsibility for self and others, sense of community, and personal relationship with God. Adversity-based themes included feeling unprotected and alone (primarily related to childhood Household Dysfunction), having few choices, and a lack of trust in self, others, and religious institutions. The implications of the data yielded from this study encourage counseling programs to focus on promotive factors in order to build on strengths, such as building attachment security, increasing the capacity for resilience and hope, increasing opportunities to engage positively with others, and psychoeducational programs aimed at providing trauma-informed interpersonal and intrapersonal awareness and best parenting practices.