Topic 2 Definition and Categories of Risk and Protective Factors

  • Are factors that make it more likely (or increase possibility) that people will experience a given problem.
  • Adversely affect the child’s developmental trajectory and put the child at risk for later substance abuse or other behavioural problems.
  • Are measurable and predictive, and many risk factors are modifiable – they are subject to change through intervention(s) (NIDA, 2020, ARACY, 2015).
  • Are factors that make it less likely (or decrease the possibility/ probability/ chance) that people will experience a given problem.
  • Promote successful coping and adaptation to life situations and change.
  • Are not simply the absence of risk factors; rather, they may buffer, reduce or lessen (mediates or moderates) negative outcomes of risk factors (ARACY, 2015; Jessor et al., 1995; Hawkins et al., 1992).

Building on the Brofenbrenner’s work, McLeroy, Bibeau, Steckler, and Glanz (1988) offered five levels of factors’ influence specific to health behaviour: intrapersonal, interpersonal, institutional, community, and public policy (Sallis, Owen,  & Fisher, 2015).

Schematic representation of the Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory (1977)


Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Model

Name of System Description of System


Microsystems impact a child directly. These are the people with whom the child interacts such as parents, peers, and teachers. The relationship between individuals and those around them need to be considered. For example, to appreciate what is going on with a student in math, the relationship between the student and teacher should be known.


Mesosystems are interactions between those surrounding the individual. The relationship between parents and schools, for example will indirectly affect the child.


Larger institutions such as the mass media or the healthcare system are referred to as the exosystem. These have an impact on families and peers and schools who operate under policies and regulations found in these institutions.


We find cultural values and beliefs at the level of macrosystems. These larger ideals and expectations inform institutions that will ultimately impact the individual


All of this happens in an historical context referred to as the chronosystem. Cultural values change over time, as do policies of educational institutions or governments in certain political climates. Development occurs at a point in time.

Source: Paris, J., Ricardo, A., & Rymond, D. (2018). Child Growth and Development. College of the Canyons. Open textbook library –

Risk and protective factors exist at every level at which an individual interacts with others and the society

Individual Social
  • Demographic factors
  • Physiological and psychological dispositions
  • Attitudes
  • Values
  • Knowledge
  • Skills
  • Problem behaviours
  • Peer (norms, activities)
  • Family (function, management, bonding)
  • School (bonding, climate, policy, performance)
  • Community/Society (bonding, norms, resources, awareness/mobilization, policy/sanctions, cultural contexts, the informational environment)

influence self-efficacy, which may be broadly defined as an individual's sense of self, social competence, and self-determination

influence through social agents’ behaviour and attitudes, resulting in the development of a perception of what constitutes normative behaviour