One of my assignments as an administrator in Morgan School District is the Safe and Drug Free Coordinator for the district. With this responsibility comes an awareness of the issues related to Risk and Protective Factors that affect students.
The Risk and Protective Model is an empirical way of reducing negative consequences in a student’s life. This is based on the fact that to prevent a problem from happening one needs to identify the factors that increase the problem from developing and then find ways to reduce the risk. Just as medical research has found risk factors for lung cancer such as smoking, working in certain professions and inherited pre-dispositions to lung cancer; so have researchers defined a set of risk factors for youth problem behaviors.
Risk factors are characteristics of family, community and school environments, and of students and their peer groups known to predict increased likelihood of drug use, delinquency, school dropout, poor school performance and violent behaviors among youth. For example, children who live in disorganized, crime –ridden neighborhoods are more likely to become involved in crime and drug use than children who live in safe neighborhoods.
Protective factors are also characteristics of family, community and school environments and exert a positive influence and buffer against the negative influence of risk, thus reducing the likelihood that adolescents will engage in problem behaviors. Protective factors identified through research include strong bonding to family, school, community and peers, and healthy beliefs and clear standards for behavior.
Studies have shown that the greatest source of Risk Factors in our society come from the home. Some of these family behaviors that affect students in a negative way are poor family management, family conflict, family history of antisocial behavior and parental attitudes favorable toward antisocial behavior and drugs.
Likewise, the same studies indicate that the strongest source of Protective Factors again come from the home. These positive family behaviors that protect students from making wrong choices are family attachment, opportunities for pro-social involvement, and reward for pro-social involvement.
The data is clear that when young people feel they are a valued part of their family, they are less likely to engage in negative behaviors. Likewise, adolescents who are exposed to more opportunities to participate in meaningful activities that allow them responsibilities are again less likely to participate in negative behaviors. Finally, when families praise, encourage and attend to things done well by their child, an adolescent is more likely to engage in activities that are positive.
In the community domain some Risk Factors include: low neighborhood attachment, laws and norms favorable toward drug use and perceived availability of drugs and handguns. The one identified Positive Factor from the community is to reward pro-social involvement that includes positive participation in activities that help youth bond to the community thus lowering their risk for negative behavior
The school Risk Factors consists of academic failure and low commitment to school. The information indicates that when academic failure begins in late elementary grade (4-6), the potential for negative behaviors increases. Further data shows that negative behaviors are significantly more prevalent in students that have low commitment to school.
The school Protective Factors consists of young people being given opportunities to participate in meaningful, important activities that are both academic and extra-curricular in nature. Again, rewarding of young people in recognition for their contributions at school indicates students that are more likely to choose positive actions.
All of this data is well and good, but what does it mean for the children in Morgan County and School District. Often articles like this end with a statement of the problem that might include the following statistics: problem substance use, anti social behavior concerns, places of substance use, long lists of risk factors, detailed protective factors, and the data might continue.
About a year ago, Superintendent Ken Adams, used the framework of Communities that Care, to put together a coalition of different entities that represent the entire county. This group of parents, educators, law enforcement, church leaders, county officials, city council and others has met for over a year with the purpose of increasing the protective factors and reducing the risk factors of all children in Morgan County. The name of the organization is Morgan Empowered and the following is the mission statement: “It is our mission to coordinate family and community resources to empower our youth to become responsible and upright adults.”
This group meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 9:30 am in the Morgan School District office and you are invited to come attend and be part of the solution to a concern that all of us have and that is allowing our children to have the maximum of Protective Factors to “empower our youth to become responsible and upright adults”. Please join us in this cause!
• The above information reflects data from the “Student Health And Risk Prevention 2009 Prevention Needs Assessment Survey Results, Weber County DSAMH Region Profile Report”