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How to Use the Risk and Protective Factors to Support People

Research shows that the risk for substance abuse and other negative behaviors increases as the number of risk factors increases. Protective factors exert a positive influence or buffer against the negative influence of risk, thus reducing the likelihood that adolescents will engage in problem behaviors such as substance abuse, delinquency, early sexual initiation and violence.


Protective factors identified through research by Drs. Hawkins and Catalano include social bonding to family, school, community and peers; healthy beliefs and clear standards for behavior; and individual characteristics. For bonding to serve as a protective influence, it must occur through involvement with peers and adults who communicate healthy values and set clear standards for behavior, i.e., positive role models.


In supporting people in achieving and maintaining health, it may not be possible to impact the risk factors that affect the individual, family, school or community. However, by increasing Protective Factors, you can support positive impacts that can change the trajectory of those with whom you work.


Protective factors: 

- Bonding to pro-social activities

- Skills training

- Healthy beliefs and clear standards

- Steady, well-paying employment

- Availability of drug-free activities for youth to participate in

- Positive role models


Once you have identified the risk and protective factors for the issue you're dealing with, the next step is to work on ways to reduce those risks and increase protective factors. It's not enough simply to say, "We need to reduce truancy by five percent over the next three months.” You must use several strategies to achieve lasting change.


Strategies related to changing individual behavior include: 


1. Incentives or disincentives--finding ways to penalize or discourage risky behavior and reward or encourage protective behavior (for example, attending school each day on time, at each class for a week earns an incentive of 1 hour of video games or outside play)


2. Providing support (for example, a caring adult may request permission to escort the student to classes to monitor and/or watch for bullying or other negative behaviors OR may request permission to escort an adult to work to identify and reduce stressors or barriers to success) 


3. Changing your program to remove barriers or make it more accessible to the people using it (for example, providing a bus pass for students who reside far from school, can reduce truant behaviors)


4. Changing policy (for example, in school suspension allows the student to be relieved of the rigors of class transitions and large class sizes, and still allows the student to benefit from school attendance – creating, modifying or terminating a policy can be challenging)


5. Providing information (for example, a handout and conversation regarding appropriate monitoring of children can be used to encourage parents to monitor their children) 


6. Modeling (for example, a discussion of appropriate monitoring and modeling of the behavior with follow up discussion could be used to build this skill among parents in recovery) 


7. Skills training (for example, recipes and discussion coupled with hands on experience can support people in preparing nutritious meals which increases bonding, pro-social activities, and healthy beliefs) 


8. Providing feedback on progress (for example, discussion of the skills used over the past week can support positive skills growth for both adults and youth eventually leading to mastery)


Use the Risk and Protective Factor Framework on MH Net for a quick view of how your protective factor intervention can address particular risk factor behaviors.


The next issue will feature “Windows of Opportunity” in using the Risk and Protective Factors.


By Adrienne Buckle, M.P.A, Prevention Services Supervisor

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