About Risk Factors
Risk factors are elements in a young person’s environment that make it more likely they will develop problem behaviors, like substance use, delinquency, or violence. In the same way that poor diet is a risk factor for heart disease, there are risk factors that research has shown contribute to youth problem behaviors.
Protective factors buffer against risk by either reducing the impact of risk factors, or changing the way youth respond to them. Communities That Care (CTC) organizes protective factors with the Social Development Strategy.
The Science Behind Risk Factors
The 20 risk factors that CTC focuses on were identified after examining hundreds of studies across 30 years. Risk factors were selected when two or more long-term, high-quality studies indicated that a particular factor contributed to a problem behavior. The chart above shows the CTC risk factors, along with the youth problem behaviors each factor is associated with. CTC focuses on risk factors because evidence has shown that lessening the impact of these risk factors lowers rates of youth problem behaviors.
Determining Local Risk Factors
CTC places risk factors into four categories: Community, Family, School, and Individual/Peer. Specific risk factors affecting a community are determined using data from the CTC Youth Survey. This survey is administered in grades 6, 8, 10, and 12, and provides a comprehensive look at what our youth are facing. From the results of this survey, the local CTC is able to narrow down the top five risk factors affecting youth. The CTC then puts these risk factors to a community vote to determine the top two or three risk factors for community efforts to focus on.
How CTC Addresses Risk Factors
Once the community has chosen two risk factors to address, CTC members work together to develop a Community Action Plan. This plan includes selecting evidence-based programs [link to Blueprints site] that target these top two risk factors. CTC ensures that the chosen programs are implemented correctly (with fidelity) and monitors outcomes. The CTC Youth Survey is then administered again after two years to identify changes in risk factors. In strong CTC coalitions with dedicated members, this process can continue indefinitely, so that the community is always addressing new or persistent risk factors, resulting in significant changes in youth problem behaviors over time.