Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Counseling At-Risk Afro-American Youth: An Examination of Contemporary Issues and Effective School-Based Strategies

Academic journal article Professional School Counseling

Counseling At-Risk Afro-American Youth: An Examination of Contemporary Issues and Effective School-Based Strategies

Article excerpt

Many Afro-American children are considered to be "at-risk" due to a variety of social and economical factors. This article first reviews the (fleets of racism on Afro-American youth and examines the results of barriers caused by negative stereotyping within counseling services, schools, and communities. Next, a historical overview of issues and approaches used in counseling Afro-American youth in schools is presented, along with a discussion of the limitations of each. Lastly, practical implications for multicultural competence and effective contemporary interventions are recommended for school counselors to assist this population, via both direct counseling and consultation with other school, family, and community members. School counselors can utilize this information to enhance at-risk Afro-American students' ethnic identity development, as well as academic, career, social, and personal growth.

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Since the publication of the National Commission on Excellence in Education's 1983 study, A Nation at Risk, educators and counselors across the country have struggled to identify and assist "at-risk" youth populations. By definition, any young person is "at risk" for educational and social failure when his or her potential for becoming a responsible and productive adult is limited by barriers at home, at school, or in the community. Risk factors-including racism, poverty, lack of parental supervision, illegal drug use, high school incompletion, teenage pregnancy, juvenile crime, and suicide-during the past decade have adversely affected a growing number of American children (McWhirter, McWhirter, McWhirter, & McWhirter, 1998).

Although at-risk factors affect youth of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds, we chose to focus this review of counseling issues and strategies on at-risk Afro-American (1) youth for several reasons. First, recent psychological research has begun to focus on the widening achievement gap between Afro-American and Euro-American students (Barton, 2003; Harpalani & Gunn, 2003). Lower IQ and standardized test scores have raised many questions regarding societal and educational expectations and the preparedness of minority status students (Carlson & Lewis, 1993). Further, Afro-American youth are less likely than Euro-American youth to graduate from high school; national statistics indicate a graduation rate of 56 percent for Afro-American youth, as compared to 78 percent for Euro-American youth (Stanard, 2003). Contemporary statistics also indicate that Afro-American youth are significantly more likely than their Euro-American counterparts to face poverty, unemployment, teen pregnancy, victimization, and incarceration (Kempf-Leonard, Pope, & Feyerherm, 1995; Substance Abuse and Mental Health Administration [SAMHSA], 1999). As disproportionate numbers of Afro-American youth face risks to their safety, physical and mental health, and future success, we believe it is important to understand specialized risk factors and counseling interventions, particularly in light of past research that suggests that counseling services often are perceived as culturally insensitive to the needs of Afro-American clients (McDavis, Parker, & Parker, 1995).

Of course, this is not to suggest that all Afro-American children are "at-risk" or that suggested counseling interventions for Afro-American youth should be uniformly applied. Lee (1991) wisely counseled against assuming a monolithic perspective in which "all black people are the same and that one methodological approach is universally applicable in any counseling intervention with them" (p. 561). The inherent danger in discussing shared cultural factors is the inadvertent creation or propagation of stereotypes about Afro-Americans without respecting uniqueness and within-group variation. Therefore, we encourage counselors to use this information to further their understanding of potential issues facing Afro-American youth, but not to impose stereotypes (Boyd-Franklin, 1989; McDavis et al. …

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