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  1. Youth Topics
  2. Violence Prevention
  3. Risk and Protective Factors

Risk and Protective Factors

No single factor explains why some youth perpetrate or experience violence or why violence is more prevalent in some places than others. Violence results from a complex interplay of a variety of factors.

Understanding the range of factors that put youth at risk for violence or protect them from experiencing or perpetrating violence makes it possible to develop comprehensive, multilevel, evidence-based strategies to prevent and eliminate violence and improve overall child well-being.

Individual

Biological and personal history factors can increase the likelihood of experiencing or perpetrating violence. These can include physical and cognitive challenges (e.g., fetal alcohol disorders, learning disorders), impulsive or aggressive tendencies, history of trauma (including involvement with foster care and homelessness), exposure to violence, and involvement with drugs or alcohol.

Other factors can buffer young people from the risks of becoming violent, even if they have experienced the other kinds of risk factors listed above. These include academic achievement, high educational aspirations, positive social orientation, and highly developed social skills/competencies.

Relationships

The close relationships in a young person’s life can either increase or reduce the risk of experiencing violence as a survivor or perpetrator. A person’s closest social circle—-peers, partners, and family members—influences their behavior and contributes to their experience. 

Risk factors at the family level include authoritarian childrearing attitudes, low parental involvement, poor family functioning, and parental substance abuse or history of criminal involvement. Peer and social risk factors include involvement in gangs and social rejection by peers. 

Protective factors that can reduce the risk of violence include connectedness to family or other caring adults outside the family, frequent and positive shared activities with parents, positive engagement with teachers in supportive school climates, and involvement in safe and prosocial after-school activities or programs. [1]

School, Community, and Society

Other factors often overlooked are settings in which social relationships occur, such as schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods. Characteristics of these settings can increase or decrease the risk of violence. Broad societal factors can also play a role since they can create a climate in which violence is either encouraged or inhibited. 

Risk factors can include aspects of the built environment (e.g., high concentrations of poor residents, design factors, such as open and green spaces, lighting), social environment (e.g., diminished economic opportunities, low levels of community participation, socially disorganized neighborhoods), community-level trauma (e.g., historical trauma, chronic exposure to violence), other environmental factors (e.g., lead and other toxic substances and their relationship to neurological functioning and brain development), prevailing cultural and societal norms, and the interaction of youth and families with community institutions, including schools, police, courts, child welfare agencies. 

Protective factors at the community and societal level have been less studied than protective factors at the individual and relationship level. Factors that appear to buffer against the risk of violence include coordination of resources and services among community agencies, access to mental health and substance use services, and community support and connectedness. Additional community-level protective factors include:

  • Having access to safe, stable housing
  • Access to high-quality, nurturing, and safe preschool and childcare in the community
  • Family-friendly work policies for parents that do not result in excessive non-supervised time for the child[1]

Resources

Adverse Childhood Experiences
This webpage contains related information and resources.

Connecting the Dots: An Overview of the Links Among Multiple Forms of Violence (PDF, 16 pages)
This briefing document shares research on the connections between different forms of violence and describes how these connections affect communities. 

Preventing Child Abuse and Neglect: A Technical Package for Policy, Norm, and Programmatic Activities (PDF, 52 pages)
This technical package (PDF, 52 pages) includes a select group of strategies based on the best available evidence to help prevent child abuse and neglect. Communities and states can use this resource as they prioritize child abuse and neglect prevention activities.

Protective Factors Against Delinquency (PDF, 14 pages)
A literature review funded by OJJDP, published in 2015.

Risk Factors for Delinquency (PDF, 13 pages)
A literature review funded by OJJDP, published in 2015.

Youth Violence: Risk and Protective Factors
This webpage lists some of the known risk and protective factors for youth violence.

References

1 CDC, 2021
2 CDC, 2021

Other Resources on this Topic

Announcements

Training Resources

Youth Voices

Youth Briefs

How Individualized Education Program (IEP) Transition Planning Makes a Difference for Youth with Disabilities

Youth who receive special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA 2004) and especially young adults of transition age, should be involved in planning for life after high school as early as possible and no later than age 16. Transition services should stem from the individual youth’s needs and strengths, ensuring that planning takes into account his or her interests, preferences, and desires for the future.

Youth Transitioning to Adulthood: How Holding Early Leadership Positions Can Make a Difference

Research links early leadership with increased self-efficacy and suggests that leadership can help youth to develop decision making and interpersonal skills that support successes in the workforce and adulthood. In addition, young leaders tend to be more involved in their communities, and have lower dropout rates than their peers. Youth leaders also show considerable benefits for their communities, providing valuable insight into the needs and interests of young people

How Trained Service Professionals and Self-Advocacy Makes a Difference for Youth with Mental Health, Substance Abuse, or Co-occurring Issues

Statistics reflecting the number of youth suffering from mental health, substance abuse, and co-occurring disorders highlight the necessity for schools, families, support staff, and communities to work together to develop targeted, coordinated, and comprehensive transition plans for young people with a history of mental health needs and/or substance abuse.

Young Adults Formerly in Foster Care: Challenges and Solutions

Nearly 30,000 youth aged out of foster care in Fiscal Year 2009, which represents nine percent of the young people involved in the foster care system that year. This transition can be challenging for youth, especially youth who have grown up in the child welfare system.

Coordinating Systems to Support Transition Age Youth with Mental Health Needs

Research has demonstrated that as many as one in five children/youth have a diagnosable mental health disorder. Read about how coordination between public service agencies can improve treatment for these youth.

Civic Engagement Strategies for Transition Age Youth

Civic engagement has the potential to empower young adults, increase their self-determination, and give them the skills and self-confidence they need to enter the workforce. Read about one youth’s experience in AmeriCorps National Civilian Community Corps (NCCC).