What does “At-Risk” Mean? “At-Risk” for what?

The term “at-risk” is used to identify children who, without support or assistance, will likely experience a negative school outcome. In other words, “at-risk” children are “at-risk” for struggling at school and getting overlooked or neglected by the educational system. This is because “at-risk” children possess one or more risk factors, which fall into one of three categories:

Academic Risk Factors: school-related factors such as negative school climate, lack of resources (physical and/or human), giftedness, learning disabilities without identification or support, no regard for differnet learning styles, etc.

Social Risk Factors: These can include living in poverty or low SES areas, community characteristics (e.g., crime, low expectation levels), gap between home and school, minority status, and many other social factors.

Personal Risk Factors: Examples are disabilities, chronic illnesses (mental or physical), bereavement, lack of home support, abuse, etc.

The more risk factors a student has, the more likely it is for him or her to have a poor educational outcome.  That being said, it is important to remember that being “at-risk” does not guarantee that a child will struggle in the future; it simply means that he or she may ecounter difficulty if help is not received. This help usually comes in the form of protective factors which help to mitigate a child’s risk factors. Examples of protective factors include: resilience, positive and strong adult role models, positive and supportive school climates, guidance and counselling, providing choice, personal attention from teachers, and many, many more. “At-risk” students (or “children of promise”) with a sufficient amount of protective factors are therefore more likely to overcome their challenging circumstances and experience a more positive future outcome.


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