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Risk and Protective Factors

Risk and protective factors are the product of more than 40 years of prevention science research! Communities that Care founder Dr. Hawkins was working in corrections with youth that were involved with gangs. He started wondering what had lead these kids to be attracted to and begin their criminal involvement. He began seeing that all of these youth had the same few commonalities in their lives. As he dug deeper and research studies began, these commonalities were identified as contributing factors to problem behaviors. They became known as risk factors.

Risk factors are not a new idea. Through modern scientific discovery, we have found that most medical conditions have warning signs that can predict developing illness. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Some risk factors are high blood pressure, unhealthy diet, smoking, obesity, physical inactivity, and excessive alcohol use. Having one of these symptoms does not guarantee that you will develop a cardiovascular disease, but with each additional symptom the risk increases. The same can be said for problem behaviors in youth; the more risk factors a person has, the more likely they are to participate in problem behaviors.

Inversely, there are things that we can do to protect against these risk factors, and in turn, buffer against problem behaviors. Typically, protective factors are the opposite of risk factors. Back to the heart disease model, there are sure ways to prevent cardiovascular issues- maintaining healthy blood pressure, eating a well rounded diet, refraining from smoking, being physically active, and moderating alcohol use. Though the risk is never zero, it is greatly decreased by this type of lifestyle. It is the same in our prevention work. If we can use protective factors to interrupt risk factors, the risk of problem behaviors decreased significantly.

Risk and protective factors for problem behaviors are split into four different domains: individual, family, school, and community. The problem behaviors we address as Vineyard Cares are substance abuse, delinquency, teen pregnancy, school dropout, violence, and depression & anxiety. For more information on specific risk and protective factors, please see the charts located on the documents page on our website.

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