Virginia Commonwealth University

Risk and Protective Factor Scale Definitions

Prevention planners on many levels include risk and protective factors as components of prevention needs assessment. These factors have been identified as those that can (a) be applied across the domains of community, school, family, peer, and individual as well as health and behavior outcomes, including substance use, violence, and delinquency; (b) be administered within a school setting during one class period (approximately 50 minutes); and (c) be appropriate for adolescents ranging in age from 11 to 18. These factors have been found to predict drug use and delinquent behavior at the individual level. For information about the framework of risk factors and the prevention areas they address, please see the Risk and Protective Factor Framework.

Risk Factors Protective Factors
COMMUNITY
Availability of drugs The more easily available that drugs and alcohol are in a community, the greater the risk that drug abuse will occur in that community. Perceived availability of drugs in school is also associated with increases risk. Opportunities for Pro-social Community Involvement Youths who perceive more opportunities for involvement in pro-social activities in the community are more likely to participate in such activities and less likely to use drugs.
Availability of firearms Firearms, primarily handguns, are the leading mechanism of violent injury and death in the United States. The easy availability of firearms in a community can escalate an exchange of angry words and fists into an exchange of gunfire. Research has found that communities with greater availability of firearms experience higher rates of violent crime, including homicide. Rewards for Pro-social Community Involvement Youths who perceive greater rewards and recognition for involvement in pro-social activities in the community are more likely to participate in such activities and less likely to use drugs.
Community laws and norms favorable toward drug use, firearms, and crime Community norms - the attitudes and policies a community holds concerning drug use, violence, and crime - are communicated through laws, written policies, informal social practices, the media and the expectations that parents, teachers, and other members of the community have for young people. Laws, tax rates, and community standards that favor or are unclear about substance abuse or crime put young people at higher risk of delinquency. One example of a law affecting drug use is the taxation of alcoholic beverages. Higher rates of taxation decrease the rate of alcohol use. Other examples of local rules and norms affecting drug and alcohol use are policies and regulations in schools and workplaces.    
Media portrayals of violence There is growing evidence that media violence can influence community acceptance of violence and rates of violent or aggressive behavior. Both long- and short-term effects of media violence on aggressive behavior have been documented.    
Transitions and mobility Even normal school transitions can predict increases in problem behaviors. When children move from elementary school to middle school or from middle school to high school, significant increases in the rates of drug use, school dropout, and antisocial behavior may occur. Communities with high rates of mobility appear to have increased drug and crime problems. The more frequently people in a community move, the greater the risk of criminal behavior. Whereas some people find buffers against the negative effects of mobility by making connections in new communities, others are less likely to have the resources to deal with the effects of frequent moves and are more likely to have problems.    
Low neighborhood attachment and community disorganization Higher rates of juvenile drug problems, crime, and delinquency, as well as higher rates of adult crime and drug trafficking, occur in neighborhoods where people have little attachment to the community, where the rates of vandalism are high, and where there is low surveillance of public places. Perhaps the most significant issue affecting community attachment is whether residents feel they can make a difference in their lives. If the neighborhood's key players - such as merchants, teachers, police, and human and social services personnel - live outside the neighborhood, residents' sense of commitment will be less. Lower rates of voter participation and parental involvement in school also reflect attitudes about community attachment. Neighborhood disorganization makes it more difficult for schools, churches, and families to pass on pro-social values and norms.    
Extreme economic deprivation Children who live in deteriorating neighborhoods characterized by extreme poverty, poor living conditions, and high unemployment are more likely to develop problems with delinquency, teenage pregnancy, and school dropout, and are more likely to engage in violence toward others during adolescence and adulthood. Children who live in these neighborhoods and have behavior or adjustment problems early in life are also more likely to have drug abuse problems as they grow older.    
FAMILY
Family history of the problem behavior Children raised in a family with a history of addiction to alcohol or other drugs are at increased risk of having alcohol or other drug problems, and children born or raised in a family with a history of criminal activity are at increased risk of delinquency. Similarly, children born to a teenage mother are more likely to be teenage parents, and children of dropouts are more likely to drop out of school themselves. Opportunities for Pro-social Family Involvement Youths who perceive more opportunities for involvement in pro-social activities in their family are more likely to participate in such activities and less likely to use drugs.
Family management problems Poor family management practices are defined as not having clear expectations for behavior, failing to supervise and monitor children and excessively severe, harsh, or inconsistent punishment. Children exposed to these poor family management practices are at higher risk of developing all of the health and behavior problems. Rewards for Pro-social Family Involvement Youths who perceive greater rewards and recognition for involvement in pro-social activities in their family are more likely to participate in such activities and less likely to use drugs.
Family conflict Although children whose parents are divorced have higher rates of delinquency and substance abuse, it appears that it is not the divorce itself that contributes to delinquency behavior. Rather, conflict between family members appears to be more important in predicting delinquency than family structure. For example, domestic violence in a family increases the likelihood that young people will engage in violent behavior themselves. Children raised in a environment of conflict appear to be at risk for all of the problem behaviors. Family Attachment Youths who report stronger emotional bonds to their parents (or legal guardians) are less likely to use drugs, unless their parents use drugs.
Favorable parental attitudes and involvement in the problem behavior Parental attitudes and behavior toward drugs and crime influence the attitudes and behavior of children. Children who are excused for breaking the law are more likely to develop problems with juvenile delinquency and children whose parents engage in violent behavior inside or outside the home are at greater risk for exhibiting violent behavior. In families in which parents are heavy illegal drug or alcohol users or are tolerant of their children's use, children are more likely to become drug and alcohol abusers in adolescence. The risk is further increased if parents involve children in their drug- or alcohol-using behavior - for example, asking a child to light a cigarette or to get a beer from the refrigerator.    
SCHOOL
Academic failure beginning in late elementary school Beginning in the late elementary grades, academic failure increases the risk of drug abuse, delinquency, violence, teen pregnancy, and school dropout. Children fail for many reasons, but it appears that the experience of failure itself, not necessarily a lack of ability, increases the risk of problem behaviors. Opportunities for Pro-social School Involvement Youths who perceive more opportunities for involvement in pro-social activities in school are more likely to participate in such activities and less likely to use drugs.
Lack of commitment to school Children who are not committed to school have ceased to see the role of student as a viable part of their lives and are at higher risk for problem behaviors. Rewards for Pro-social School Involvement Youths who perceive greater rewards for involvement in pro-social activities in school are more likely to participate in such activities and less likely to use drugs.
INDIVIDUAL/PEER
Early and persistent antisocial behavior Boys who are aggressive in grades K-3 or who have trouble controlling their impulses are at higher risk for substance abuse, delinquency, and violent behavior. When a boy's aggressive behavior in the early grades is combined with isolation, withdrawal, or hyperactivity, there is an even greater risk of problems in adolescence. Belief in the Moral Order Youths who hold stronger moral beliefs are less likely to use drugs.
Rebelliousness Young people who feel they are not part of society, are not bound by rules, do not believe in trying to be successful or responsible, or who take an active rebellious stance toward society are at higher risk of drug abuse, delinquency, and school dropout. Social Skills Youths who display more skillful social behavior (e.g., social problem solving, greater respect and awareness of others, better communication) are less likely to use drugs or become involved in delinquent or violent behavior.
Friends who engage in the problem behavior Young people who associate with peers who engage in problem behaviors - delinquency, substance abuse, violent activity, sexual activity, or dropping out of school - are much more likely to engage in the same behaviors. This association is one of the most consistent predictors that research has identified. Even when young people come from well-managed families and do not experience other risk factors, just spending time with friends who engage in problem behaviors greatly increases the risk of developing similar problems. Pro-social Peer Attachment Youths who report stronger emotional bonds to peers that engage in pro-social behaviors and abstain from drug use and delinquent behavior are less likely to use drugs or engage in delinquent or violent behavior themselves.
Favorable attitudes toward the problem behavior During their elementary school years, children usually express anti-drug, anti-crime, and pro social attitudes, and have difficulty imagining why people use drugs, commit crimes, or drop out of school. In middle school, however, their attitudes often shift toward greater acceptance of delinquency behaviors as others they know participate in such activities. This acceptance places them at higher risk. Resilient Temperament Children who have an easygoing temperament and who recover quickly from emotionally upsetting incidents are less likely to engage in drug use or delinquent behavior during adolescence.
Early initiation of the problem behavior The earlier young people drop out of school, begin using drugs, commit crimes, and become sexually active, the greater the likelihood that they will have chronic problems with these behaviors later in life. Research shows, for example, that young people who initiate drug use before the age of 15 are at twice the risk of have drug problems as those adolescents who wait until after the age of 19. Sociability Children who are socially outgoing and have a pleasant personality are less likely to use drugs or become involved in delinquent or violent behavior.
Constitutional factors Constitutional factors that contribute to problem behaviors may have a biological or physiological basis. These factors are often seen in young people exhibiting such behaviors as sensation seeking, low harm-avoidance, and lack of impulse control. These factors appear to increase the risk of young people abusing drugs, engaging in delinquent behavior, and committing violent acts. Religiosity Youths who report more frequent involvement in organized religious activities are less likely to use drugs.
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