Abstract: Youths' Perceptions of Unsafe Schools: An Ecological Systems Analysis (Society for Social Work and Research 14th Annual Conference: Social Work Research: A WORLD OF POSSIBILITIES)

11708 Youths' Perceptions of Unsafe Schools: An Ecological Systems Analysis

Saturday, January 16, 2010: 2:30 PM
Golden Gate (Hyatt Regency)
* noted as presenting author
Jun S. Hong, MSW , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Doctoral Student, Urbana, IL
Mary Keegan Eamon, Ph D , University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Associate Professor, Urbana, IL
Purpose: Although schools were once perceived as one of the safest places for children and youths, students today are more concerned about their school safety than ever. Unsafe schools have been linked to poorer educational outcomes, such as school dropout, and measures of well-being, such as increased stress. Developing and implementing effective school safety interventions and policies require an examination of the ecological factors that influence how youths perceive school safety. Despite this need, few studies have examined factors at multiple levels of the environment. The main purpose of this study is to use Urie Bronfenbrenner's ecological model as a framework to examine multiple factors that predict students' perceptions of their schools as unsafe.

Method: The study used a sample of 10- to 15-year-old youths (N=953) from the 2004 and 2006 waves of the National Longitudinal Survey of Youths and the Mother-Child datasets. Four possible responses to the question “I don't feel safe at this school,” were dichotomized to reflect some degree of feeling unsafe in school versus “not at all true.” Groups of variables included youth characteristics (age, race/ethnicity, gender, behavior problems), maternal/family characteristics (marital status, mothers' education, poverty), school environment (ease of making friends, teacher's involvement, school rule enforcement, weapon carrying), neighborhood environment (neighborhood safety, area of residence), and parenting practices (discussions with youths, school involvement). Weighted descriptive statistics were computed, and models were estimated using multivariate logistic regression.

Results: Approximately 30% of the youths felt that their schools were unsafe to some degree. Of the youth characteristics, only age was statistically significantly related to feeling unsafe in school (OR=1.15), and none of the maternal/family characteristics were significant. Within the school environment, youths reporting higher levels of ease in making friends at school (OR=.65), teachers being more involved in their school life (OR=.75), and the school enforces rules (OR=.67) were less likely to perceive their schools as unsafe. Youths observing someone carrying a weapon in school were 1.68 times more likely to perceive an unsafe school. Within the neighborhood environment, youths perceiving their neighborhoods as safe were less likely to feel unsafe in school (OR=.62), and those residing in a metropolitan area not in a central city, compared with youths living in a central city, were .68 times as likely to perceive their schools as unsafe. Finally, youths whose parents were more involved in their schools were less likely to feel unsafe in their schools (OR=.90).

Implications: These findings support the importance of examining interactions within multiple system levels and indicate that school and community environments and parents' involvement in the school have important influences on students' perceptions of an unsafe school. These results suggest that practitioners who assist schools in creating environments that are supportive, yet enforce rules, free of weapons, and involve parents will increase students' perceptions of a safe school. Advocating for community interventions, such as neighborhood watches, and social policies to decrease violence in communities also might increase youths' perceptions that their schools are safe.