Individual Risk Factors
Table 1 shows the results of the tabulations of the seven at-risk conditions for the school age population across a set of demographic and geographic variables. For each panel identifying a risk factor, a highlighted line shows the fundamental factor with which the greatest amount risk might be presumed to occur. The specific proportions associated with each risk condition for the total school-age population are:
- At least one disability - 7.6%
- Retained in grade at least once - 8.1%
- Speaks English less than 'very well' - 4.9%
- Does not live with both parents - 30.8%
- Either parent emigrated in past 5 years - 2.3%
- Family income below $10,000 - 8.5%
- Neither parent/guardian employed - 10.5%
As can be seen, for any of the individual factors (except living with both parents), the overall risk is relatively low.
Across the various subgroups identified in the table there are several notable points of variation. By gender, for example, there are strong points of divergence in the factors of disability and retention, where males tend to have higher levels than females. But for the most part, there do not tend to be strong differences between boys and girls in the levels of risk they are experiencing.
For the race and ethnicity groups identified1 there are more sizable differences. Black children, for example, have much higher levels of grade retention, low family income and likelihood of living with fewer than 2 parents - 63% of all Black children did not live with both of their parents. Both Hispanic and Asian and Pacific Islander children had high levels of speaking English less than "very well" and a parent who had emigrated within the past 5 years. Nearly a quarter of Hispanic children were reported to speak English less than "very well".
Dividing the child population into three similarly sized age groups (5-9, 10-13, 14-17), there are relatively few differences in the levels of risk. Grade retention, as one might expect intuitively, does rise with age - the longer one is in school, the greater the exposure to having failed a grade. More potentially problematic, however, is the large number of young children (5-9) who are reported to speak English less than "very well". These children may represent a subpopulation of special need that some schools are ill-prepared to deal with.
One aspect of variation across age that is also notable is the extent to which there is little or no variation of many risk factors across the age groups - in other words, for many of the factors, very young children have about the same level of risk as do children who are a decade older. It is not clear if this pattern foreshadows overall rises in the rates of risk that may be occurring over time, since we do not have longitudinal measures to see how much change occurred for the older children as they aged.
Variation across regions shows relatively little in the way of differences over the risk factors. Grade retention and low family income are somewhat more likely in the South than other regions, and the probability of speaking English less than "very well" is somewhat higher for children in the West, but there are not large systematic differences across regions.
Variation by area type, however, is very clear. For nearly every indicator of risk, children living in central cities have much higher levels of the risk factors than do children in either the central city balance ("suburbs") or in nonmetropolitan areas. This consistently high occurrence of risk factors for children in central cities may mean that their lives are far more volatile than their peers in other areas, and begins to point to the logical notion that many of these factors are not independent, but correlated with one another.
Multiple Risk Factors
The table of individual risk factors help us to see that there are many different ways in which any child can be classified as "at risk", and choosing even one of these factors can result in demonstrating that many children have a potential problem. The consideration of all seven factors, however, allows us to answer two fundamentally important questions:
1. How many children experience at least ONE at-risk condition?
2. How many children experience MULTIPLE at-risk conditions?
Table 2 provides detailed information on the proportion of children who experience any, as well as multiple, at-risk conditions. The table shows these measures for the personal and familial factors alone and combined. Regarding the first question raised, while about 18% of all children have at least one personal risk factor, about 36% - twice as many - have at least one familial factor. When considering both types of factors 46% of all children - over 24 million, or close to one-half of the child population - report having at least one of these seven at-risk factors in their life.
Across the various subpopulations, there are some strong differences in the levels of risk children are exposed to. The most sizable of these differences would appear to be across race-ethnicity groupings. While only 35% of White children report at least one risk factor, 45% of Asian and Pacific Islander children, 62% of Hispanic children, and 72% of Black children, report at least one of the seven risk factors.
The other dimension which exhibits some strong variation in level is that of geographic area, where, following on the patterns observed in the analysis of individual risks, a far higher proportion of children living in central cities experience at least one risk factor (59%) than do those living in city-balance (39%) or nonmetropolitan areas (43%). This analysis will not attempt a decomposition of risk factors across the various subpopulation groups discussed, but, given that central city populations tend to be more highly comprised of minorities, it is quite possible that these higher risk levels in central cities simply reflect differential race-ethnicity composition, rather than some factor endemic to central city locales themselves. Nevertheless, the larger levels of children with at least some at-risk factors in these areas also likely means that these areas, their schools and other social service organizations, are being more heavily 'taxed' to accommodate the possible additional needs of these children.
We now turn to the second question asked earlier - that of multiple risks. While a large proportion of children do experience at least one of the seven at-risk factors, a sizable minority also experiences multiple factors. About 18% of all children are reported to experience more than one risk factor. As with the analysis of any single factor, examining the patterns across subgroups indicates that the greatest point of variation among children is with respect to the race-ethnicity groupings. Just 11% of White children were exposed to more than one risk factor. However, 18% of Asian and Pacific Islander children, 27% or Hispanic children, and 34% of Black children have more than one risk factor in their life. Examination of the regional data once again shows that over a quarter (27%) of the children living in central city areas have multiple risk factors, while children living in city-balance and nonmetro areas had substantially lower levels of multiple at-risk children.
One other demographic factor of note merits mention. In terms of both any and multiple factors of risk, there is very little difference in the levels across the three age groups. The fact that very young children are about as likely to have at least one risk factor as children nearly 10 years older on average (44% compared to 47%) is somewhat troubling on its own. However, these young children are also just as likely as the older group to have multiple risk factors (17% compared to 18%). While a single risk factor might be the result of a temporary circumstance, or addressed with a single remediation, children with multiple risk factors are likely to require more attention and need for intervention in order to address the variety of problems they may be encountering. The fact that the level of multiple risk exposure is just as great for very young as for older children, represents a possibly serious issue for child well-being.
While it is clear that many children experience more than one risk factor, it should also be apparent that this is because many risk factors are correlated with one another, at least to some degree. Table 3 looks at this phenomenon in a specific way, examining the number of total risk factors the individual has by the specific factors of risk.
The upper-left three cells of the table show the relationship between each of the three 'personal' at-risk factors and total at risk factors. As can be seen, persons who experience a disability or are retained are much more likely to experience multiple risk factors (26% and 28% respectively) than are persons who speak English less than "very well". Similarly, looking at the four right-most cells of the 'familial' risk factor row, it is clear that children en families with low income or neither parent working have very high rates of multiple risk (83% and 81%, respectively). Of course, these two factors themselves are likely to be highly correlated, thus creating at least some of this amplified affect.
When one examines the third panel of the table, the full range of both sets of factors become clear. Over 80% of children in low-income families or where no parent works also have at least one other risk factor, and 56% of the children in low-income families have three or more risk factors. As is often the case, these data speak strongly to the lasting negative impact of low income on children in ways that may not be quickly apparent as problems of family finances.
Interestingly, the single risk factor that is associated with the least additional risk is that of living in a household where both parents are not present. While 46% of the children who did not live with both parents had more than one risk factor, this is the lowest level associated with any of the seven factors examined.