Americans for the Arts: YouthArtsArts Programs for Youth at Risk: The Handbook
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Program Planning

Risk and Protective Factors

Before you attempt to design a program that will enhance youth development and reduce juvenile delinquency and related problem behaviors, it is necessary for you to understand that numerous factors affect youth development, the most important of which are risk and protective factors.

For more about risk and protective factors, see below or pages 24-25 of the full chapter (PDF format).

Risk factors

Research has shown that youth are likely to develop unhealthy behaviors when they are exposed to risk factors such as the availability of drugs or associations with peers involved in problem behaviors. Moreover, children exposed to more than one risk factor are even more likely to develop unhealthy behaviors. Risk factors can be grouped into four domains:

  • community: availability of drugs and firearms; absence of community norms against drug use, firearms, and crime; media portrayals of violence; high rates of mobility; low neighborhood attachment; extreme economic deprivation

  • family: family history of problem behavior; family management problems (such as excessively harsh or inconsistent punishment); family conflict (such as physical abuse); favorable parental attitudes toward problem behavior

  • school: early and persistent anti-social behavior; early academic failure; absence of commitment to school; engaging in problem behavior; favorable attitude towards problem behavior; early initiation of the problem behavior; constitutional factors (for example, an impulsive nature).

  • peer group and individual constitution: rebelliousness; influence of peers who engage in problem behavior; early initiation of the problem behavior; constitutional factors (for example, an impulsive nature).

Protective factors

Protective factors are conditions that buffer young people from the negative consequences of exposure to risk factors, either by reducing the impact of the risk or by changing the way youth respond to it. Here are the protective factors that have been shown to help youth cope with negative environments:

  • building strong bonds with positive, pro-social family members, other positive adult role models, and friends

  • interacting with individuals and social groups who have healthy beliefs and consistent standards for behavior

  • having positive constitutional factors such as a positive, sociable nature; a resilient temperament; and high intelligence

The Social Development Strategy

The Social Development Strategy—a widely accepted youth development model created by J. David Hawkins and Richard F. Catalano of Developmental Research and Programs, Inc.—specifies how the essential protective factors of bonding and healthy beliefs and standards can be developed. The strategy explains, for example, that children require three conditions to bond with any social unit:

  • opportunities to make meaningful contributions to the unit,
  • the skills to contribute effectively,
  • recognition for their contributions.
We followed guidelines from Hawkins and Catalano's "Communities That Care" training system, which involves the entire community in assessing community needs and designing, implementing, and evaluating research-based prevention programs that address those needs.

The risk factors listed in this section are those incorporated into the "Communities That Care" model; they have been shown to predict the development of a problem behavior. For more information on risk and protective factors, the Social Development Strategy, and the "Communities that Care" model, go to the Evaluation section. For more about the risk-and-protective-factor curriculum used in the Urban smARTS program, see the examples in the Team Training section.

For a diagram of the YouthARTS development project planning model, please see page 27 of the full chapter PDF.

Using a planning model

A planning model can be used to develop a new program, redesign an existing program, or review an existing program.

The following sections will show how you can use a planning model to:

(Using the planning model to train program staff is covered in the Team Training section and using the model for evaluation purposes is covered in the Evaluation section).

In This Section
The planning model
Risk and protective factors
Forming a collaboration
Defining program goals
Selecting youth
Determining program activities
Running your program

How to use this site
Best Practices
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