What Is At-Risk Youth? - Definition & Statistics

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  • 0:00 Understanding At-Risk Youth
  • 0:45 Poverty: The Major Predictor
  • 2:05 Juvenile Delinquency
  • 3:02 Dropping Out of High School
  • 4:39 Teen Pregnancy
  • 6:05 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rachael Smith

Rachael has a background in secondary education and has practiced law for eight years.

This lesson discusses how a child is classified as an at-risk youth, as well as the factors that affect the ability of those youth to become successful members of society.

Understanding At-Risk Youth

Because the definition of an at-risk youth is so broad, in some respects, all youth are at risk in one way or another. So who fits the technical definition of 'at risk?' An at-risk youth is a child who is less likely to transition successfully into adulthood. Success can include academic success and job readiness, as well as the ability to be financially independent. It also can refer to the ability to become a positive member of society by avoiding a life of crime. We will look at factors that lead to children being identified as at-risk and how those factors can adversely affect successful transition into adulthood.

Poverty: The Major Predictor

Children who come from low-income families are much less likely to transition successfully into adulthood. A study by the US Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) analyzed census data from 2008 and found that household income dramatically impacts youth outcomes. Youth from low-income families are more likely to be teen mothers, engage in gang activity and delinquent behaviors, and are less likely to graduate from a 4-year college than are youth from middle-income and high-income families.

Poverty is a huge risk factor for children, and unfortunately, it is all too common. According to a report compiled by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP), over 20% of children lived in poverty in 2010. Minority children are more likely to be living in poverty, and, therefore, more likely to be at risk. Unfortunately, the DHHS survey found increased delinquency, teen pregnancy, and dropout rates among minorities. For example, nearly one in three Hispanic children and one in three black children live in poverty, or below the federal poverty line, compared to only one in ten white children.

Juvenile Delinquency

Juvenile delinquency is a major sign of a youth who is at risk of not transitioning successfully into adulthood. With regard to participation in crime, The National Conference of State Legislators has defined four risk factors that increase the likelihood that youth will engage in delinquent behaviors:

  1. School and community risk factors
  2. Family risk factors
  3. Individual risk factors
  4. Peer risk factors

The presence of one or more of these risk factors increases the likelihood that children will be involved in the court system. Poverty also plays a direct role in determining the likelihood of juvenile delinquency. The DHHS study found that 20% of children from low-income families are charged with a crime by the time they turn 24, compared with 16% of children from middle-income families: and 12% of children from high-income families:.

Dropping Out of High School

Young people who drop out of high school are considered at risk, and therefore, less likely to transition successfully to adulthood. Poverty plays a role in dropout rates as well. Teen mothers, children from low-income families, and those who are homeless or considered runaways all have lower graduation rates than those of high-income families.

  • A study by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that only about half of all teen mothers received a high school diploma by the time they reached 22 years old compared to nearly 90% of those who had not given birth as teenagers.
  • According to the American Psychological Association, low-income children, or those whose family's income was in the bottom 20% of all families in the US, were five times more likely to drop out of high school than children of high-income families, or those in the top 20% of families.
  • Nearly 75% of homeless or runaway teens have either dropped out of high school or will drop out.

Education is a major contributing factor to success in adulthood. According to statistics published in 2012 by the United States Census, high school dropouts in 2010 earned $20,241 per year compared to $30,627 for those who had a high school diploma. Similarly, over 30% of people aged 18-24 who lived in poverty in 2009 had not graduated high school, according to a 2011 National Center for Education Statistics report.

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