'Community disorganization:' a key to problem behaviors, new study says

Amy Eirsert
"Community disorganization” continues to be a major risk factor for Erie County youth, leading to substance abuse, delinquency, violence, depression and anxiety, according to the 2011 Pennsylvania Youth Survey (PAYS).

The Erie County portion of PAYS, conducted with a sample of 3,570 middle and high school students in eight school districts, is sponsored by the Erie County Office of Drug & Alcohol Abuse and facilitated by the Mercyhurst University Civic Institute in partnership with the Erie County Policy and Planning Council and Erie Unified Youth Violence Reduction Initiative.

PAYS identifies 22 risk factors as conditions that increase the likelihood of a young person engaging in problem behaviors, with community disorganization achieving the highest rank locally at 72, up two points from the 2009 survey, noted Amy Eisert, director of the Mercyhurst Civic Institute.

Community disorganization is defined as communities where there is little attachment to the community, where the rates of vandalism are high and where there is low surveillance of public areas. Other risk factors include availability of handguns (56 percent), parental attitudes favorable to antisocial behaviors (55 percent) and low perceived risks of drug use (55 percent).

The Erie County results will be released Wednesday, Feb. 20, during a 2 p. m. presentation at the Ambassador Banquet & Conference Center. The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) sponsors the biennial survey of 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students throughout the state to gauge the level of youth behaviors and attitudes relating to not only alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (ATOD), but also antisocial behaviors, family relationships, community attachment and school engagement.

According to the report, the most commonly used substances by Erie County students in the past 30 days were alcohol (17.6 percent), marijuana (10 percent), and cigarettes (8.4 percent). Almost 7 percent of students in Erie County used an illicit drug other than marijuana, and just over 5 percent used inhalants in the past 30 days. Students in Erie County reported higher levels of past 30-day use for inhalants and any illicit drug other than marijuana as compared to students statewide.

Despite decreasing from 2009 to 2011, bullying behaviors among Erie County youth remain higher than state averages. Nearly half of the students in Erie County reported that they had been called names, made fun of, or teased. In addition, one out of five students reported being a victim of physical aggression as indicated by reports of being kicked, pushed, or shoved around. Over 13 percent of Erie County students reported they had been threatened or embarrassed through the use of the Internet or a cell phone. All assessed bullying behaviors except one (sexual harassment on the Internet) were more common in Erie County compared to students statewide.

The report will be posted on the Civic Institute’s website following its official release Wednesday.
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