Today, students must make choices about involvement with gangs and violence, alcohol and drugs, sex and pregnancy, and other potentially damaging risk-taking behaviors. In addition, students routinely face difficult environmental Stressors that include, but are not limited to divorce/single parent family, domestic violence, parental drug and alcohol use/abuse, physical and sexual abuse, and neglect.
Estimates of the prevalence of problems affecting elementary and secondary school students are varied. Researchers estimate that 16% (Rumberger, 1986) to 25% (Ranbom, 1986) of students drop out of high school prior to graduation, with the incidence of inner-city dropout posited as being significantly higher (Ranbom, 1986).
Another often studied problem pertains to alcohol and drug use. One large-scale study indicated that 17% of high school seniors reported that they had been drunk by the eighth grade. This figure rose to 71% of the polled seniors who reported that they had been drunk by the twelfth grade (Toward a Drug-Free Generation, 1990). Fifteen percent of eighth graders reported that they had tried cigarettes, while 16% reported regular cigarette use (Toward a Drug-Free Generation, 1990). Fifteen percent of eighth graders and 44% of high school seniors reported that they had tried marijuana (Toward a Drug-Free Generation, 1990).
With regard to the issue of sex and pregnancy among elementary and secondary school students, it is evident that they are faced with significant life decisions at increasingly early ages. Hamburg (1993) reported that in the United States, two thirds of all out of wedlock births can be accounted for by teenagers and that there are now 6 million children under the age of five who are living with mothers who gave birth during their adolescent years. It is common knowledge that the rate of teenage pregnancy in the United States is one of the highest in the developed countries (Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1981; Department of Health Education and Welfare, 1980). It has also been estimated that eight out of ten girls who become pregnant before their 17th birthday will not finish high school (Department of Health, Education and Welfare, 1980). Card and Wise (1978) found the consequences of teenage childbearing to be more severe than for other circumstances such as SES, minority status, and low academic aptitude.
Examination of abuse and neglect issues also highlight environmental stressors which many children experience. Finkelhor (1984) found that between 9 and 52% of females and 3 to 9% of the males in his study were exposed to sexual abuse as children. According to Tower (1989), the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect estimates that in the United States between 100,000 and 200,000 children are physically abused each year. Additionally, the National Center on Child Abuse and Neglect (NCCAN) reported that child neglect has been found to occur 50% more often than abuse (NCCAN, 1988).
Hamburg (1993) reported that close to half the children of married parents will be exposed to parental divorce by their sixteenth birthday. He points out that "most American children spend part of their childhood in a single-parent family." It is estimated that female-headed families are approximately five times more likely to be poor than are married families (Rosen, Fanshel, & Lutz, 1987).
Poverty is also a significant stressor to children and families. In 1983, 22% of all children under the age of 18 lived below the poverty level, representing 40% of poor people in this country (Rosen, Fanshel, & Lutz, 1987).
The above conditions are raised in order to emphasize many of the issues confronting elementary and secondary school students today. It appears that social workers in these schools have been increasingly called upon to intervene on behalf of students facing any/all of these problems. Identifying and utilizing effective preventive and/or intervention methods appears to be an increasingly important task for social workers operating in an environment of diminishing financial resources. …