What does it mean for a young person to be considered “at risk?”
At-risk youth can be defined as “youth with increased vulnerability to risk factors, who have experienced some sort of trauma, impacting their decision-making process, resulting in harmful or unhealthy choices,” stated Eric Kelly of Youth For Christ USA. Often people assume that at-risk youth come from poor, broken families with generational problems. But the fact is that at-risk youth can come from any background if they do not have family, religious, or community support, a positive adult role model or peer groups, a sense of purpose, social competencies, or healthy defined boundaries.
At Youth For Christ (YFC), we connect with 11-19 year-olds from Siouxland communities, many of whom are considered at-risk. These young people often come from all different walks of life, backgrounds, socio and economic statuses, races, and family dynamics. Our mission is to engage with these young people by building trusting relationships right where they are, while listening to their life stories and offering the hope we have in our relationship with Jesus Christ.
What are some pivotal moments of young people’s lives today?
Young people, whether at risk or not, have pivotal moments that define their lives. We want to be here for them during those moments. From figuring out their identity, to managing the physical and hormonal changes of their bodies, to navigating the world of family dynamics, pressures from peers and social media, and entering into dating relationships – there are a plethora of defining moments in young peoples’ lives.
It’s crucial that young people have someone or somewhere to go to feel safe to discuss and navigate these pivotal moments. As Jacob Bland, President and CEO of Youth For Christ USA shared, “Youth need to feel a sense of belonging. The teenage years can be some of the most challenging times in a young person’s life; and we want to be available so every kid feels valued, appreciated, and loved.” Research has proven that having a mentor or organization to support teens has beneficial effects. The Mentoring Effect study illustrates that, “mentoring relationships have been proven to have powerful effects in personal, academic, and professional areas of young people’s lives.”
How do I know if a young person is considered at-risk and what resources are available?
To know if a young person is at risk, we recommend looking at two assessment tools we use at YFC: the 40 Development Assets and Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). Roxanne Rahn, our City Life Program Lead, is trained to help our volunteer leaders navigate and understand these assessment tools. Rahn shared, “The higher the number of development assets a young person scores, the less likely they are to make poor decisions, and more likely to thrive in their teenage years.”
Rachelle ‘Shelli’ Rawson, our Juvenile Justice Program Lead, is trained in Trauma Informed Care, which helps our mentors and volunteer leaders understand and navigate the trauma young people experience. “In Juvenile Detention we mostly work with high-risk youth with a low number of development assets,” Rawson stated.
From the ACE’s assessments, findings have shown that young people who have experienced four or more adverse childhood events had:
- increased risk for smoking, alcoholism, and drug abuse
- increased risk for depression and suicide attempts
- poor self-rated health
- increased amounts of sexual partners
- greater likelihood of sexually transmitted disease
- challenges with physical inactivity, and severe obesity
What is an actionable step I could take today with a young person in my life?
If you are a trusted adult in a young person’s life, begin by asking what things they are currently struggling with in their lives. Feel free to share with them some defining moments and decisions you made in your teen years to encourage them to be more vulnerable. This could be done while sharing a pizza, cup of coffee, ice cream, or a walk around the block.
If the young person shares with you that they are suffering from anxiety, depression, or thoughts of suicide, we encourage you to assure them they are not alone and they shouldn’t feel guilt or shame. If they share suicidal thoughts, take responsibility to connect them with a local mental health or counseling service in Siouxland. Taking this first step can be difficult, but there are professionals in the community who are there to help. This speaks volumes to the young person in your life that you truly value, love, and care for them.
As we mentioned, connecting young people with a mentor is crucial. If you aren’t connected with a young person but want to be, YFC is looking to train and match mentors with at-risk youth in our community. If interested, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org to begin making an impact in a young person’s life today.
If you’re interested in learning more about the signs of trauma and development assets in youth, please connect with Roxie Rahn at email@example.com or Rachelle “Shelli” Rawson at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Siouxland Youth For Christ, a local nonprofit part of a national movement, builds relationships with young people in their communities, in their pivotal moments, to introduce them to Christ and uncover God’s story of hope in their lives.