Abstract: Positive Youth Development and Collective Efficacy: Protective Factors for Youth Exposed to Community Violence (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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Positive Youth Development and Collective Efficacy: Protective Factors for Youth Exposed to Community Violence

Wednesday, January 20, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Caroline Sharkey, MSW, Clinical Supervisor, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Rebecca Matthew, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Georgia, Athens, GA
Jennifer Elkins, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Georgia
Literature posits supportive environments are associated with increased protective factors that promote youth self-efficacy and are crucial to mitigate the risks of poverty, racism, and community violence that contribute to adverse childhood experiences and subsequent risks (e.g., gang affiliation). Yet, little research explores multi-systemic protective factors that when concurrently mobilized potentially increase community collective efficacy, social cohesion, and individual self-efficacy foundational to positive youth development (PYD). Drawing from McCall’s (2005) analytic framework of intercategorical complexity, this study evaluated two primary aspects of collective efficacy, positive adults supports and community resources, and their relationships with risky behaviors and attitudes towards antisocial behaviors associated with risk of gang affiliation. This study highlights the importance of collaborative youth research as pivotal to understand how community cohesion promotes PYD and mitigates gang affiliation risks.

Methods: Secondary data analysis was conducted using the 2016 Community Partnership for Youth Development project 64-item youth survey subset. The local school district collected data from a convenience sample of youth ages 10 to 18 (N= 151) residing in two identified high-crime/high-poverty neighborhoods in the southeast, US. Most participants identified as African American (88.7%) and female (56.3%). Favorable attitudes toward antisocial behaviors and belief in the moral order were assessed using individual-peer risk and protective factors items from the Student Crime Supplement (SCS). Risky behaviors and attitudes about gangs were assessed using items from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Attitudes Toward Gangs.” Participants were assessed for presence of positive adult supports and utilization of community resources.

This study utilized two models to address research questions using SAS software. Linear regressions were run to test the relationship between supportive adults and community resources with the dichotomous outcome variable risky behaviors and beliefs as well as favorable attitudes toward antisocial behaviors when controlling for age and gender.

Results: Findings were significant for supportive adult relationships with youth (p=0.020) with a 1.6 decrease in engagement or promotion of risky behaviors and beliefs for each unit of increase for adult supports. There was a significant association between favorable attitudes toward antisocial behaviors and age (p = 0.005) and adult supports (p = 0002). Findings were significant for supportive adult relationships as a predictive factor for reduced risky behaviors (p=0.004) and community resources had a significant direct effect on favorable attitudes (b=0.114, SE=.054, p=0.037). The higher the level of supportive adult relationships, the lower the odds of engaging in and promoting risky behaviors and beliefs for youth (OR=0.955, 95% CI=0.925 – 0.985)

Conclusions and Implications: Our findings highlight the significant role of support systems in PYD and suggests more research is needed about the intersectionality of family and community-level mediating factors within collective efficacy that promote adaptive behaviors and beliefs and combat negative impacts of oppressive forces. As poverty rates spike amidst a global pandemic that has directly impacted unemployment, housing instability, and financial security at the highest rates in the US since the Great Depression it is imperative that research attend to community-level policies and interventions promoting social cohesion to enhance PYD.