Missoula County

Protective Factors


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Basic Needs

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Why This Measure?

Protective factors are those things that help children and youth contend more effectively with risk factors and stressful life events. They enhance the current and future resiliency of an individual, and are important to healthy development. Those involved with youth development and prevention work in Missoula have rallied around a common theoretical framework: reducing risk factors and building protective factors for all its children. The more effectively a community does this, the more improvement will occur in a host of outcomes that interest us: reduced and delayed substance abuse, reduced and delayed sexual intercourse, less youth delinquency and violence, fewer dropouts, more success in school, more community service, better citizens, etc. (Note: elemental protective factors such as as adequate food and shelter, physical safety, etc. are addressed elsewhere in the Measures).

Proposed Lead Indicator

% of children who have 2 or more significant adults in their lives who care about them. This may be the single most important protective factor (Unfortunately, Missoula currently does not have these data.)

How are we doing?

We believe that more Missoula children have opportunities to develop protective factors due to community strategies and services. But perhaps 30 years ago, our children had more significant chances to connect with caring adults and be engaged in positive activities than they do now, because Missoula was smaller and American society was different then. We do know that we have many opportunities today that were not in place five years ago. On the other hand, we are sure that not all children in Missoula County have equal access to these opportunities, for a host of reasons, and there is tremendous room for improvement.

Related MeasuresYouth Substance Use, BasicNeeds, Children, Youth, Families, Health


The development of human resiliency (the ability to recover from or adjust effectively and relatively quickly to misfortune or change) is none other than the process of healthy human development – a dynamic process in which personality and environmental influences interact in a reciprocal, transactional relationship (Fostering Resiliency in Kids: Protective Factors in the Family, School, and Community, Bonnie Benard, MT OPI, Undated). The range of possible outcomes to any situation a child or youth may encounter is determined by the balance at that point in the child’s life between risk factors, stressful life events, and protective factors. As long as this balance between risk factors/ stressful life events and protective factors is favorable, successful adaptation is possible; however, when stressful life events outweigh the protective factors, even the most resilient child can develop problems (Protective factors and individual resilience. In Handbook of Early Childhood Intervention, S. Meisels and J. Shonkoff, New York: Cambridge University, 1990). No one is invulnerable; every person has a threshold beyond which he or she can succumb. Shifting the balance or tipping the scales from vulnerability to resilience may happen as a result of one person or one opportunity (B. Benard, Undated).

For most American youth, the core processes of healthy development, rooted ideally in norms and relationships within community, are ruptured or incomplete (Connecting Resiliency, Youth Development, and Asset Development in a Positive-Focused Framework for Youth, Peter Benson, Resiliency in Action, Winter, 1997). Community systems and policies can be inattentive, unresponsive, or counterproductive to increasing protective factors for children.

Attributes of Resilient Children

Against this background, longitudinal resiliency studies have highlighted the following personal attributes of children who have coped successfully with negative factors in their lives to grow into healthy, productive adults:

  • Social competence – The ability to establish positive relationships, communicate across cultural boundries, be empathic towards others, and maintain a sense of humor.
  • Problem solving skills – The ability to plan, resourcefully seek help from others, and think critically, creatively and reflectively.
  • Autonomy – The ability to maintain one’s own sense of identity, act independently, and exert some control over one’s environment.
  • A sense of purpose and future – The ability to maintain a vision of an attainable, bright future, supported by educational achievement and aspirations, persistence, optimism and spiritual connectedness.

Individual Characteristics as Innate Protective Factors

Some individual differences, like gender, temperament, intelligence, shyness or sociability, are biologically determined. These are characteristics an individual brings into the world (Communities That Care, Developmental Research and Programs, Inc, Seattle, WA, 1992.) These differences may influence the degree to which external protective factors are effective. On the other side of the coin, some of these characteristics may be enhanced by protective factors present in the child’s surroundings.

Protective Factors: The Three Basic Categories

In the text that follows, note how each of these is interwoven with the others.

Caring and Support –The value of even one supportive relationship with a caring adult cannot be overestimated. Usually this is provided within the family; when it is not, such a relationship with trusted adults outside the family becomes even more essential. Supports – emotional, motivational, and strategic -- are the ongoing relationships through which young people become connected to others and to community resources (Youth Development: A Primer, September 1996, Center for Youth Development & Policy Research, Washington D.C.). The key word is bonding—to the family, to the school, to the community. To increase bonding, it’s necessary to increase those conditions that create social bonding, i.e., by providing appropriate opportunities, the skills with which to take advantage of those opportunities, and the recognition and acknowledgment which supplies the incentive to continue (Active Participation). Healthy beliefs and clear standards (Positive Expectations) are effective when young people are bonded to the groups that hold these standards which, in turn, become part of their beliefs or values.

Positive Expectations – Through relationships that convey high expectations (Caring and Support), young people learn to believe in themselves and in their futures, developing the critical resilience traits of self-esteem, self-efficacy, autonomy, and optimism (Fostering Resilience In Children, Bonnie Benard). These expectations are enhanced when children have been provided with the necessary skills, e.g., social competence, problem-solving skills, critical consciousness, a sense of autonomy, and task mastery (Caring and Support), to be successful, and opportunities to participate (Active Participation) provide the proving grounds that, in turn, build the incentive and motivation for continued growth.

Active Participation – Young people must be provided with opportunities to contribute to their community, their school, their family, and their peer groups. Opportunities are the ongoing chances for young people to (a) be actively involved in their own learning; (b) make decisions and contributions; (c) take on challenging roles and responsibilities; and (d) engage in part-time or volunteer work (Youth Development: A Primer). If children have opportunities that are beyond their abilities, they experience frustration and failure. If they have few opportunities for active involvement, they may become bored. The task is to provide youth with meaningful, challenging, developmentally appropriate, opportunities that help them feel responsible and significant. Recognition of their contributions is essential; it promotes the incentive to continue (Positive Expectations) and furthers social bonding (Caring and Support).


Family, School, Community Domains

The positive behaviors and conditions that comprise protective factors that build resiliency may be found in the family, school, and community environments surrounding a young person.

Protective Factors Found in the Family Environment

  • Develops close bonding with child.           
  • Is nurturing and protective.
  • Uses a high warmth/low criticism parenting style (rather than authoritarian or permissive).
  • Values and encourages education.
  • Manages stress well.
  • Spends quality time with children.
  • Has clear expectations.
  • Encourages supportive relationships with caring adults beyond the immediate family.
  • Shares family responsibilities.

Protective Factors Found in the School Environment

  • Expresses positive expectations.
  • Encourages goal setting and mastery.
  • Encourages pro-social development (altruism and cooperation).
  • Provides opportunities for leadership and participation.
  • Fosters active involvement for all students (whatever their learning style or capability).
  • Trains teachers in cooperative learning.
  • Involves parents.
  • Staff views themselves as caring people.

Protective Factors Found in the Community Environment

  • Provides opportunities for participation.
  • Involves youth in community service.
  • Provides supportive social networks.
  • Leaders prioritize community health, safety, and quality of life for families.
  • Provides access to resources (health care, housing, daycare, job training, employment, education, and recreation).

(Source: Gibbs,Jeanne Tribes A New Way of Learning Together 1994)

We will focus further on this set of factors below (see Strategies for Enhancing Protective Factors in the Community Environment).

Search Institute’s Asset Development

The protective factors described above are very similar to what the Search Institute describes as "asset development". This framework articulates basic developmental necessities during the first two decades of life (40 Developmental Assets, 1997, Search Institute.
40 building blocks of healthy development are identified that help young people grow up healthy, caring, and responsible. Categories are divided into External Assets (Support, Empowerment, Boundaries & Expectations, Constructive Use of Time) and Internal Assets (Commitment to Learning, Positive Values, Social Competencies, Positive Identity). This site is extensive and important to visit if you are interested in protective factors.

Strategies for Enhancing Protective Factors in the Community Environment

It’s important that a community believe in the possibility for positive change under any political, cultural, or economic circumstances.   (Communities That Care). Communities exert not only a direct influence on the lives of youth, but, perhaps even more importantly, exert a profound influence on the "lives" of the families and schools within their domain and, thus, indirectly powerfully affect the outcome for children and youth.

Perhaps the most obvious manifestation of caring and support at the community level is the availability of resources necessary for healthy human development: health care, child care, housing, education, job training, employment, and recreation.  According to most researchers, the greatest protection we could give children is ensuring them and their families access to these basic necessities. Conversely, the greatest risk factor for the development of nearly all problem behaviors is poverty, a condition characterized by the lack of these basic resources. Communities can, and have, succeeded in this endeavor is through the building of social networks that link not only families and schools, but agencies and organizations throughout the community with the common purpose of collaborating to address the needs of children and families (Fostering Resilience in Kids: Protective Factors in the Family, School, and Community, Bonnie Benard).

The community, in all it's guises, learns to value youth as a resource.

The natural outcome of having high expectations for youth, for viewing youth as resources and not problems, is the creation of opportunities for them to be contributing members of their community (Ibid.). While traditional societies defined the role of the adolescent in the life of the community, these contributory roles have largely been replaced by autonomy and leisure, and frequently accompanied by no adult supervision (Ibid.). This time could be put to good use both in the home and in the community: the family or community that learns to direct the energy, general good will, and potential of these young adolescents into community or individual improvement projects may find that they benefit the community as well as the individual (Ibid.).

Community Service/Service Learning

As society is now structured, few social mechanisms contribute to the positive, non-traumatic integration of young people into the adult world.  Little helps them achieve a civic – as opposed to personal – maturity, a realization that they benefit from, and then in turn can benefit the community. A community service program can demonstrate teens’ capacity to work in responsible roles; nurture and support local projects; and give recognition, and therefore impetus, to the efforts of the teens on behalf of their community. The program must involve teens in responsible roles as program developers as well as participants. Ideas from successful programs have included: outings for children in battered women’s shelters; plays about early pregnancy performed by teen mothers for elementary school students; other plays about drug and alcohol abuse; companion services for the elderly; cleanups of entire neighborhoods; construction of housing for low income families; recreation programs in an inner city area for young children; and "mentoring" of kids in foster care.  Other possibilities include academic tutoring, literacy training, and child care. Not every child has the inherent ability to be a top student, gifted musician, or fine athlete; but every young person can reach out to another human being and help the community (("Making bad kids good through ‘Youth as Resources’", John A. Calhoun, Nation’s Cities Weekly, June 18, 1990). Benefits observed from community service projects have included: bonding which carried over to other activities, greater academic motivation, sensitivity to persons with disabilities, awareness of aging and death, insights into sources of others’ perseverance, and the joy of helping ("Helping The Community: An Untapped Resource for Troubled Youth", Alec J. Allen and Martin L. Mitchell, The Pointer, Spring 1982).

"Participation is perhaps the most critical protective factor in preventing social problems and alienation. Youth service – youth working in the school or community performing socially needed tasks – is identified as a prevention approach based on youth as resources and a way of providing opportunities for participation. A review of youth service literature highlights five rationales for youth service: 1) it promotes healthy psychological, intellectual and social development of youth, 2) youth service helps youth assume adult responsibilities, 3) there is much work which needs to be done, one estimate suggesting there are three and a half milion service positions for youth, 4) the creativity of youth is needed to address social problems of the present and future, and 5) youth service builds linkages between school and community increasing the relevance of education to life and experience to education."  (Youth Service: From Youth As Problems To Youth As Resources, Bonnie Benard, Prevention Forum 10/2: pp. 6-14)

Mentors/tutors/coaches – The natural social bonds – between young and old, between siblings, between friends – give meaning to a youth’s life and a reason for commitment and caring. These social relationships are not only an end in themselves, but provide youth with the motivation to access the resources, both internal and external, they need to succeed. It is clear, however, that the family and the community that traditionally provided social capital for youth are no longer able to do this for a growing percentage of our young people. Mentoring is a structured, one-to-one relationship that focuses on the needs of the mentored participant, and fosters caring and supportive relationships through providing focused attention, interaction, and genuine attachment (Tip of the CAPT, January 1999, Western Center for the Application of Prevention Technologies,  http://ww.unr.edu/westcapt.) The most essential requirement for an effective mentoring relationship? An adult attitude that views youth as resources to be nurtured and not problems to be fixed ("Quality of Relationship is Key to Mentoring", Bonnie Benard)

The structure of a mentoring relationship is determined by its own uniquely defined goals: improvement in school performance may look for the mentoring relationship to be based on formal tutoring sessions during the school day; providing more general support, encouragement, and enrichment for youth (especially youth at risk) may focus on social and cultural activities that the mentor and youth choose for themselves and carry out independently of any formal structure, etc. (Juvenile Mentoring Program: 1998 Report to Congress, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, U. S. Department of Justice). (Also see "Learning marketable skills/apprenticeships" and "Recreation", below.) Of key importance in the mentoring relationship is the trust engendered by mutual accessibility, and by joint problem solving.

Reciprocity is also an essential component in any healthy relationship. That a mentoring relationship is a mutually transforming one was confirmed by surveys in 16 cities: adults have reported positive benefits, such as helping them fulfill their own responsibilities, strengthen their family relationships, increase their regard for people of other races, and recognize that they make a difference (Benard, above).

Learning marketable skills/apprenticeships

A form of mentoring, youth job training and apprenticeship programs are conducive to bond formation between the youths and the adults in the program. Further, the unintended findings from longterm evaluations of these programs have shown these relationships were often the critical factor in whether the program had an impact on the youths’ lives (Quality of Relationship is Key to Mentoring, Bonnie Benard; see Website under "Mentors", above). For young people growing up in poverty, the financial capital is unavailable to purchase quality child care, quality schooling, and quality after-school programs that provide social capital in terms of additional caring adult support (Ibid.). Also, in their role as advocate, the master/skilled worker under whom an apprentice serves can not only expose and link youth to services and opportunities and social networks, but can model as well as directly instruct the youth in the skills needed to successfully negotiate the bureaucratic intricacies of institutions like schools, colleges, employment agencies, and workplaces.


Recreation is essential to the development of our children and youth enhancing motor skills, social skills, creativity, and intellectual capacities and concepts. It builds self-esteem, positive self-image, trust, and cooperation, and reduces isolation, loneliness, and alienation. Recreation provides safe, developmental opportunities for the latch-key child, and stimulates participation in community life partly by teaching how to be a team member, and partly by building pride in, and a sense of belonging to, the community. The recreation arena may also provide access to one or more significant adults in a child’s life.

After school/non-school activities in safe places, with structured activities.

Young people often cite friends and fun as reasons why they are attracted to programs during out-of-school hours (A Matter of Time: Risk and Opportunity in the Out-of-School Hours, Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, New York, 1994). Community youth programs can offer young adolescents ample opportunities to be with and make friends and enjoy themselves, such as organized sports (see Recreation) and visual and performing arts. Hands-on education, cooperative learning, and peer tutoring all involve youth as active participants. Young adolescents can be offered more opportunities to feel valued and effective through community and youth service (see Community Service). Youth programs can also offer opportunities to develop leadership skills through youth advisory boards, involvement in local government, or operation of the organization itself. Additionally, many programs do not adequately acknowledge the power of youth gangs in meeting adolescents’ requirements for a sense of belonging to a valued group, security, and competence (Ibid.). Community youth programs can be real alternatives to gangs by communicating high expectations and clear rules for participants, by providing symbols of belonging such as T-shirts or membership cards, and by building strong group identity, as well as by recognizing accomplishments of young people regularly through ceremonies, public performances, and certificates of accomplishment (Ibid.).

Other non-school hour activities:

Part-time employment which builds responsibility, cooperative skills, and self-esteem, as well as earning money, which in itself can teach wise decision-making. Depending on the job, it can also teach marketable job skills (see "Learning Marketable Skills/Apprenticeships").

Volunteering (see "Community Service").

Influencing a change in local media messages (television, radio, magazines, newspapers, and film) from the "disaster" paradigm to stories of connection, integration, harmony, unity, compassion, and justice. As much as two-thirds of all news rotates around conflict, destruction, violence, and disaster. Reducing the negative and promoting the positive are not opposites: there is a synergy, an interaction between these.  ("Connecting Resiliency, Youth Development, and Asset Development in a Positive-Focused Framework for Youth", Peter Benson, Resiliency in Action, Winter 1997)

The media can also be a potent force in improving public understanding about the requirements of healthy youth development (A Matter of Time: Risk and Opportunity in the Out-of-School Hours, Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development, NY, 1994). Public opinion is often shaped by what Americans see, read or hear through the media; these opinions, in turn, influence policy debates and legislation. The media can contribute to youth development by:

  • Expanding coverage of constructive youth activities, including program and legislative initiatives.
  • Increasing the publication or broadcasts of editorial opinions, news stories, and videos written or produced by young people themselves.
  • Publicizing available activities to young adolescents and their families.

It Takes A Child To Raise A Whole Village

Young adolescents do not vote, cannot be heard in political debate, and command no power that reflects their critical importance to the nation (A Matter of Time, Carnegie Council on Adolescent Development). The youth of a community need the strong commitment of its adults to shape and enact local policies and programs that foster the healthy development of its youngest citizens.

"Clearly, as individuals and as communities, we need to re-examine how we view young people and their role in our society. Rather than passive vessels to be filled during the first 18 years of life, children can be key members of our community. Whether "A" students or drop-outs, all-star athletes or suburban skateboarders, young people can help raise our villages when they are seen as individuals with skills and capacities, with ideas and enthusiasm. For our villages to be whole, our young people must be valued.. . . . Young people have the gifts and talents to raise their villages. They lack only the confidence of their villages in them to do it." ("It Takes a Child to Raise a Whole Village, An Essay".John P. Kretzmann and Paul H. Schmitz, Public Allies, Date unavailable.)

Flagship Schools 

Initiated by the Missoula Forum for Children and Youth, the Flagship Project continues to grow, building assets and resiliency in Missoula‘s young people which will help them become healthy and successful adults. How does Flagship do this? By connecting the community with the schools, and youth with the community. Flagship Project is an initiative which facilitates collaboration among the schools, community volunteers, and community youth agencies to provide a variety of skill-building activities during nonschool hours at the school site. Examples of activities include tutoring, mentoring, theater, arts classes, sports, and specific classes such as babysitting clinics, conflict resolution, or other special projects. Middle school and high school students are also involved in community service and service learning projects, oftentimes partnering with local businesses. Youth Development Coordinators are located at the school site to arrange the activities, recruit youth participation, and schedule space for the activities.

There are currently six Flagship Schools in Missoula: Big Sky and Hellgate High Schools, Porter and Rattlesnake Middle Schools, and Hawthorne and Franklin Elementary Schools. Porter, the original site, was started five years ago with State prevention dollars. A grant from the DeWitt-Wallace Readers Digest Fund allowed expansion to Porter’s feeder schools of Dickinson, Hawthorne and Franklin Elementary, as well as Big Sky High School. Last year, Hellgate High School and Rattlesnake Middle School were added with monies from the Department of Juvenile Justice. A recent major federal grant received by Missoula County Public Schools will allow Flagship to expand to two additional high schools (including Seeley Lake), and one additional middle school in Missoula. These grants are being matched by local dollars from many Missoula agencies and organizations including Turning Point, United Way, Missoula County, City of Missoula, Child and Family Services, Art Museum of Missoula, Big Brothers & Sisters, University of Montana, Missoula County Public Schools, Lutheran Social Services, 4-H Extension Services, YMCA and YWCA.

What difference does Flagship Project make? Nearly 1800 young people participated in Flagship activities during the past year, including summer. During that same period, we recorded over 7000 hours of volunteer time from community members and youth volunteering in the community. For those students who have participated in Flagship, we have seen improved school attendance and fewer incidents requiring disciplinary action. Principals and teachers report a more positive school environment. Parents report that their children are learning important skills and are more involved in school.

Flagship is always looking for more volunteers to provide after-school tutoring and skill-development classes. If you can volunteer, please call Rosie Buzzas, Flagship Project Program Manager, at 543-2961.



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