Q: I’ve heard this term used about quite a lot of young people, but what does “at risk youth” mean?
A: At its most basic, it means youth who are at risk – surprising, huh?! But “at risk” of what?
There are many risk factors that can lead to hazards in young peoples’ lives:
- Abuse (physical, sexual, mental, etc)
- Poor schools
- Living in foster care, group homes, etc
- Unstable home life
- Learning difficulties
- Mental health
In short, this could mean that pretty much all youth are – to some extent – at risk. Like risk assessments though, some young people will be in a far higher risk situation than others.
How are youth identified as being at risk?
All youth in their lives have both risk factors (such as those listed above) and protective factors. Having a higher number of risk factors and lower number of protective factors in their life are good indicators of whether they should be deemed an “at risk youth”.
Protective factors can include:
- Stable home life
- Encouraging parents
- Scholastic ability
- Good teachers
- Safe neighborhood
- Learning social skills
- Being taught life skills
- Healthy lifestyle
- Good diet
- Access to services
How can we tell if they’re at risk?
As youth workers, we should try to be aware of any youth in our programs who are at risk. Sometimes these young people will be easy to identify, particularly if you work with a group that are generally regarded as being in a higher risk situation, such as foster youth, young offenders or students in low-income areas.
It can therefore sometimes be harder for youth workers like youth pastors to know which of their young people are at risk. There are some signs though that could indicate that youth are in more hazardous living situations:
- Highly sexualized behavior – Might indicate sexual abuse
- Wearing same clothes / clothes don’t fit / clothes have holes – Might be living in poverty
- Unwilling to read anything out – Might have learning difficulties (although could just be shyness)
- Extremely aggressive – Might indicate abuse of some kind
- Wears clothing that covers body, even in hot weather – Might suffer from physical abuse and so trying to cover bruises. This can also be a sign that they self-harm (covering up cuts/burns) or that they suffer from sexual abuse (don’t want to draw attention to their body)
Next week, we’ll look at some of the implications of working with at risk youth.
Question: Do you work with at risk youth? What advice would you give to other youth workers on how to deal with these situations? Please share your advice in the comments below.
You can also connect with us by:
- Signing up to receive our posts via email
- Following us on Twitter
- Liking us on Facebook
- Signing up to our RSS feed