Ecological dimensions of violent behavior among at-risk and high-risk youth

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The purpose of this study was to conduct a secondary analysis of data to examine demographic risk factors (i.e., race/ethnicity, poverty, age, and gender), along with environmental risk factors (i.e., gun shots heard, fights seen, homicide victims known, violent offenders known, youth physically abused by adults known, and pressure to join gangs). An ecological conceptual framework was used to examine violent behavior among at-risk and high-risk youth by directing attention to behavior and its individual and environmental determinants (McLeroy et al., 1988). Working in collaboration with the Jacksonville, Florida Communities In Schools (CIS) dropout prevention program, this study analyzed data collected from CIS students before the implementation of a six week, 12 session intervention to prevent violence. Surveys (N = 1,179) were completed by middle (6 th to 8th grades) and high school (9th to 12th grades) CIS students. Study results indicated predictor variables were associated with the majority of outcome variables. Race/ethnicity was associated with the most exposure to violence variables (6) followed by school clusters categorized by family income (4), age (3), and gender (3) outcome variables. Of the five study hypotheses, four were accepted and one was not. Blacks had a greater exposure to violence than whites (Hypothesis 1), males had greater exposure than females (Hypothesis 2), and youth 15–19 years of age had greater exposure than youth 10–14 years of age (Hypothesis 3). Hypothesis 4 was rejected indicating students from schools located in low-income neighborhoods did not have greater exposure to violence than students in schools located in higher income neighborhoods. Cluster 1 within group analysis, however, reported that blacks living in neighborhoods with higher-income families were less exposed to violence exposure outcome variables than blacks in the overall population. Results examining interaction among independent variables indicated that black males from low-income neighborhoods were more likely to report hearing gun shots in their neighborhoods. By exploring the relationship between predictor and criterion variables, results from this study were used to develop culturally appropriate interventions to prevent violent behavior within the context of the immediate social environment of youth study participants. Sharing this information with the CIS network and other interested practitioners will play a major role in assisting students at-risk for dropping out of school by strengthening health education practices which aim to prevent interpersonal violence and other health-related problems.






Public Health


University of Maryland, College Park