Situations That Put Youth At Risk

Every aspect of children’s lives affects their ability to learn and succeed in school. Wells (1990) identified a variety of circumstances that often place students at risk. She listed student-related, family-related, school-related, and community-related factors. While any one factor—or even several factors—does not necessarily place students at risk, combinations of circumstances identify the potential to drop out (Frymier & Gansneder, 1989). Some of the factors identified by Wells are listed below.

School Related:

  • Conflict between home/school culture
  • Ineffective discipline system
  • Lack of adequate counseling
  • Negative school climate
  • Lack of relevant curriculum
  • Passive instructional strategies
  • Inappropriate use of technology
  • Disregard of student learning styles
  • Retentions/Suspensions
  • Low expectations
  • Lack of language instruction

Student Related:

  • Poor school attitude
  • Low ability level
  • Attendance/truancy
  • Behavior/discipline problems
  • Pregnancy
  • Drug abuse
  • Poor peer relationships
  • Nonparticipation
  • Friends have dropped out
  • Illness/disability
  • Low self-esteem/self-efficacy

Community Related:

  • Lack of community support services or response
  • Lack of community support for schools
  • High incidences of criminal activities
  • Lack of school/community linkages

Family Related:

  • Low SES
  • Dysfunctional home life
  • No parental involvement
  • Low parental expectations
  • Non-English-speaking home
  • Ineffective parenting/abuse
  • High mobility

Predictors of dropping out of school appear to be stable over time. A study of two samples of dropouts from the mid-1970s and -1980s described the following general picture of potential dropouts (Janosz, LeBlanc, Boulerice, & Tremblay, 1997). Potential dropouts tend to be retained in the same grade, have poor academic grades, and feel disengaged from school. They are more likely to come from low socioeconomic status families where parents did not get very far in their schooling. These students tend to be part of a large peer group, to be involved in more passive activities, to adhere more frequently to deviant norms, to manifest behavior problems, to be arrested more frequently by the police, and to exhibit psychological vulnerability.

The results of the study by Janosz, LeBlanc, Boulerice, and Tremblay (1997) suggest that primary prevention should target improved classroom management, teachers’ instructional skills, students’ social skills, and parents’ behavior management practices to increase students’ school commitment and school achievement.


Duttweiler, P.C. (1995). Effective strategies for educating students in at-risk situations. Clemson, SC: National Dropout Prevention Center/Network.

Frymier, J., and Gansneder, B. (1989). The Phi Delta Kappa study of students at risk. Phi Delta Kappan, 71, 142 – 146.

Wells, S.E. (1990). At-risk youth: Identification, programs, and recommendations. Englewood, CO: Teacher Idea Press.

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