County Youth Survey Spells Out Risk Factors For Youths
When community board members of the local Communities That Care (CTC) initiative looked at the results from the Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS) conducted during the 2009/10 school year, they were expecting local scores from this small, rural community to compare favorably and even exceed state averages on a survey that measures teen behavior concerning alcohol, tobacco, other drugs and violence. While that was true in many instances, one score stood out from the others and was not what was expected for Fulton County because what it said, succinctly, is that Fulton County kids score lower than the state average when asked if they receive family rewards for good behaviors.
Since 1989, Pennsylvania has conducted a survey of school students in the 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th grades to learn about their behavior, attitudes and knowledge concerning alcohol, tobacco, other drugs and violence. The “Pennsylvania Youth Survey,” or PAYS, is sponsored and conducted every two years by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. During 2009, it was conducted in two of Fulton County’s three school districts. In the fall of 2011, it will be conducted in all three school districts in grades 6, 8, 10 and 12.
The data gathered in PAYS serve two primary needs. First, the results provide school administrators, state and local agency directors, legislators and others with critical information concerning the changes in patterns of the use and abuse of these harmful substances and behaviors. Second, the survey assesses risk factors that are related to these behaviors and the protective factors that help guard against them. This information allows community leaders to direct prevention resources to areas where they are likely to have the greatest impact.
With a focus on reducing risk factors and increasing protective factors, the CTC board was surprised to find that Fulton County’s youths scored low on a protective factor called “family rewards for prosocial involvement.” This protective factor is the result of research that shows that when parents, siblings and other family members praise, encourage and recognize things done well by their child, children are more likely to develop strong bonds to their family. This protective factor was, in fact, among the two lowest protective factors in the county’s 6th, 8th, 10th and 12th grades. While the average state score for this factor showed that between 50 and 60 percent of youths reported good family rewards, only 12th-grade students in Fulton County reported at 60 percent. Only 46 and 47 percent, respectively, of sixth-and 10th-graders and 48 percent of eighth-graders reported good family rewards. Overall, the county’s score was less than 50 percent. The overall state score was 53 percent.
Questions asked that measure the factor included: “my parents notice when I am doing a good job and let me know about it:” “How often do your parents tell you they’re proud of something you’ve done?”; “Do you enjoy spending time with your mother?”; and “Do you enjoy spending time with your father?”
According to Michelle Duhart- Tonge, a trainer with the national Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Center, “protective factors operate by shielding, buffering, guarding, reducing or potentially ameliorating youths exposure to risks. This means that even when a community can’t reduce all of the risks in young people’s lives; it can help protect them from the effects of risk exposure by building a protective shield. “If everyone does their part: families, schools, friends, individuals, communities, then the shield will have a force field that is more challenging to penetrate.”
Duhart-Tonge, who assisted in training the local CTC community board last year, also said, “When family members reward their children for positive participation in activities, it further strengthens the bonds the children feel to their families, and helps promote clear standards for behavior.”
CTC is an “operating system that takes communities through a well-defined structured process to prevent adolescent problem behaviors and promote positive youth development.”
The CTC program will continue in the months to come to focus on boosting this protective factor. According to Duhart- Tonge, research suggests that family support and positive family communication are ways to tackle the problem. She also said that providing opportunities and recognition also play a large role. Some examples would include family activities such as sports, clubs, organizations and more parental involvement in youths’ lives. “Recognition that the community values its youths, a caring school climate and high expectations are also ways to increase this protective factor within a family,” she said.
In addition to trying to boost family rewards for positive behavior, the local CTC is also focused on reducing two risk factors that the surveys showed were higher than the state average. They include: problem behavior of being drunk or high at school (12.3 percent of local students reported having been drunk or high at school in the past year). Compared statewide, Fulton County students reported higher rates in eighth and 10th grades, lower among those in 12th grade and similar among sixth-graders; and reducing the risk factor of attitudes favorable to drug use. On this risk factor, Fulton County students received a percentile score of 62, which is 10 points higher than the statewide score of 52. This factor was measured through questions such as “if a kid smokes marijuana in your neighborhood, would he or she be caught by the police and how wrong would most adults in your neighborhood think it was for kids your age to drink alcohol?”
The news is far from all bad, however, as Elen Ott, executive director of Fulton County Center for Families, pointed out. “Our youth surveys show that we have some things in our community that are really working well. For example, our students reported high levels of the protective factor School rewards for Prosocial Involvement and School Opportunities for Prosocial Involvement. This indicates that our kids are very connected with their schools and feel like their schools are doing a good job of making them feel rewarded for their efforts.”
Julie Dovey, executive director of Fulton County Partnership Inc., also added that “the survey showed a high level in the area of Family Attachment. The score was on average nine percentile points higher than the statewide average.”
Locally, CTC is an initiative organized jointly by Fulton County Center for Families and the Fulton County Partnership. Its community board consists of representation from schools, county agencies, medical facilities, faithbased and other community organizations. The key leaders include representatives from the Partnership, Center for Families, Services for Children, the Juvenile Probation office and the Franklin- Fulton Drug & Alcohol program. To date, the initiative has assisted all three county school districts in implementing the Olweus Bullying Prevention Program, an evidence based school program designed to reduce bullying within the schools.
The CTC key leaders welcome all community participation in this important endeavor. Those interested should contact the CTC mobilizer, Jamie Taylor, at 717-485-5038.