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Targeting High-Risk Kids

The Seattle-based Reconnecting Youth Program is a school-based prevention initiative aimed at high-risk teenagers from grades nine through 12. The program specifically targets teenagers who are doing poorly in school and could drop out and who also show signs of other behavior problems such as substance abuse, depression, and suicidal tendencies. Students are recruited into the program if they have below average credits, been absent from school at least 25 percent of the time, and have had a significant drop in grades or record of dropping out. Teachers can also refer students they consider at risk of dropping out. The program's goal is help teenagers with personal growth and interpersonal communications, establish drug-free social activities and friendships,  and address crises in their lives, including any suicidal thoughts. Participants meet together at lunch and talk about their issues with other students. Many students feel special to be involved in the program.

Boys drinking and smoking

Leona Eggert, Ph.D., a University of Washington School of Nursing professor who developed the Reconnecting Youth Program, says research shows it has improved participants' school performance, reduced drug involvement, decreased the tendency of high-risk teenagers to befriend deviant peers, and increased self-esteem and personal control. Eggert says the program is now trying to recruit parents to attend meetings with their children, but it hasn't been easy. "Recruitment of parents is difficult," she says. "When we are successful, it's because we've hooked the kid first."

Girls smoking

Another program focuses on the increasing problem of substance abuse among girls. A University of Michigan study found that daily cigarette use among eighth-grade girls jumped 48 percent between 1991 and 1995; today, nearly one in 10 eighth grade girls is a daily cigarette smoker. Teenage years are particularly hard for girls. A 1997 survey by the New York-based Commonwealth Fund found that young girls entering puberty experience a crisis in confidence both emotionally and physically that renders them vulnerable to risky behaviors such as smoking, drinking, or taking drugs.

To address these issues, the Department of Health & Human Services has created a national public education campaign to empower girls between the ages of 9 and 14, the period when girls tend to lose self confidence and self worth, become less physically active, perform less well in school, and neglect their own interests and aspirations. "It's during these years that girls become more vulnerable to negative outside influences and to mixed messages about risky behaviors," says HHS Secretary Donna Shalala. The "Girl Power" campaign is based on research showing that girls age 8 to 9 typically have very strong attitudes about health. A 1995 Partnership for Drug Free America study found that an overwhelming majority of boys and girls in grades 4-6 believe that using drugs is dangerous. The HHS campaign is the government's attempt to reinforce and sustain these values among girls ages 9 to 14.

-- Janet Firshein

Top photo: © David Young-Wolff/Tony Stone Images
Bottom photo: © Telegraph Colour Library/FPG International


This description is not intended as an endorsement of this particular program.

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