Adolescent at risk?What does the literature tell us about the best practice and treatment for adolescents at risk?

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Kristen Lentz eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In the school system, students can be labelled 'at-risk' for a variety of factors, including: being an English Language Learner (ELL), low standardized test scores, frequent absences, pattern of failing grades, being held back a year in school. 

Many schools and school districts must address this issue in their populations, not only by identifying these students, but also by developing strategies to help them succeed.  One such strategy is called 'Response to Intervention' or RTI; the RTI process helps general education teachers identify 'at-risk' students and develop an intervention plan to address their educational needs within the school day.  Interventions can include many different types of assistance like checking for understanding with student, creating a tutoring schedule, conference with parents, or making incentives for motivation.  All the student's teachers are then given a copy of this plan for the student.

RTI has three levels, and as a student progresses or improves, he or she might be exited from the program.  If the RTI campus committee does not see improvement, however, then they can advance the student to Tier II or Tier III.  One benefit of RTI is that if a student progresses to Level III, the committee can request testing to determine if that student may have learning disabilities.  Often, identifying students who may have learning disabilities but have 'slipped through the cracks' and never been tested is the first step toward eliminating that 'at risk' label and ensuring that the student can be more successful.

Karen P.L. Hardison eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I agree with litteacher that one of the primary best practices for at risk youths has been detrmined to be mentoring. A secure support system, usually external to the home since the home may often be the seat of the development of risk tendencies, that offers general mentoring is the minimum recommended with one-to-one mentoring being preferred. But there are several factors that predict success in mentoring.

After the establishment of a mentoring relationship, the frequency of mentoring contact and the duration of the mentoring relationship are critical factors. advises high frequency with high intensity duration contact meetings that occur at least three times a month with contact lasting four hours. This is very different from a one hour contact that is more common with Big Brother / Big Sister programs. They also advise that mentoring is most successful when the mentor establishes a friendship quality relationship. Training and support for the mentor are the other factors that are specified for mentoring success with high risk youths.

mizzwillie eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Social science researchers also try to figure out what elements are necessary for resiliency, the ability to recover quickly, where two children in the same set of circumstances, demonstrate that one is resilient and the other is not. What are the characteristics of the inner strength of one child and how are they obtained when the other child does not have these even if all else is equal? The literature does emphasize that for any adolescent, but especially for those at risk, many forms of support are necessary.  The "village"  approach where the problem is an issue for the entire community rather than an isolated family problem produces the best results anecdotally.  After school programs designed with at risk youth in mind engage and demonstrate care and concern for youths with no other support.  As a current tutor for an at-risk student so that she can advance into a regular college English class, the struggles she must go through to simply survive and try to better her lot in life are daunting and deserve help.

litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

There are a lot of reasons

There are a lot of reasons adolescents can be at risk.  One component is mentoring.  The literature tells us that when adolescents have someone to talk to and connect with, they will be more plugged in to school and more likely to be successful academically and stay in school.

Experts in the field tend to agree that mentoring activities, such as those that take place in schools, can be a useful tool in reaching at-risk students. (

Teachers already have a connection with students, but teachers mentoring students has extra benefits.  The adolescent will see the teacher in a different light, leading to more positive behavior and academic performance.  The teacher also sees the student in a different light, and gets to know and understand the student better.

adolescents can be at risk.

Jessica Pope eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One thing the literature consistently emphasizes in the need for many and varied structures of support for adolescents at risk. The neoconservative narrative - in which troubled youth are a family problem, rather than an issue for the community as a whole - limits our ability to think creatively and resourcefully about how troubled adolescents and thier families can be supported through difficult times.

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