Risk and Protective Factors

The Risk and Protective Factor Model of Prevention


Risk factors are characteristics of school, community, and family environments, as well

as characteristics of students and their peer groups that are known to predict increased likelihood

of drug use, delinquency, school dropout, teen pregnancy, and violent behavior among youth.

Dr. J. David Hawkins, Dr. Richard F. Catalano and their colleagues at the University of

Washington, Social Development Research Group have investigated the relationship between

risk and protective factors and youth problem behavior. For example, they have found that

children who live in families with high levels of conflict are more likely to become involved in

problem behaviors such as delinquency and drug use than children who live in families with low

levels of family conflict.


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. Protective

factors identified through research reviewed 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.


Research on risk and protective factors has important implications for prevention efforts.

The premise of the risk and protective factor model is that in order to promote positive youth

development and prevent problem behaviors, it is necessary to address those factors that predict

the problem behaviors. By measuring risk and protective factors in a population, prevention

programs can be implemented that will reduce the elevated risk factors and increase the

protective factors. For example, if academic failure is identified as an elevated risk factor in a

community, then mentoring, tutoring and increased opportunities and rewards for classroom

participation can be provided to improve academic performance.


For more information on how to promote positive youth development please visit:

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

National Center for Mental Health Promotion and Youth Violence Prevention

Oasas Risk and Protective Factors

Risk and Protective Factors Framework

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