Assessing the Impact of Community-Based Universal Prevention on Adolescent Gang Association: An Examination of the Effects of Communities That Care
Fleming, Christopher Michael
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Despite the severe consequences of adolescent gang involvement, both for youth and their communities, little is known about how to effectively prevent it. Communities That Care (CTC), a community-based universal prevention system, has been found to effectively reduce problem outcomes among youth, including delinquency, violence, and substance use. Although it was not designed to address gang involvement as a primary outcome, CTC’s approach toward reducing ecological risks may prevent gang involvement to the extent that these risk factors also predict gang involvement. This dissertation examines the effectiveness of CTC in preventing adolescent gang involvement among a sample of rural youth through three aims: 1) it examines whether the prevention system’s targeted risk factors are predictive of gang involvement among rural youth; 2) it examines the degree to which CTC is effective in preventing adolescent gang involvement; and 3) it evaluates whether CTC’s universal implementation is equally effective in reducing gang involvement for youth with different types and levels of risk. Data come from the longitudinal panel (n=4,407) of the Community Youth Development Study, a community-randomized trial of the CTC prevention system. Youth from 24 rural and small town communities in 7 states were surveyed from Grades 5 to 12 regarding behavioral outcomes and associated risk and protective factors. Latent profile analyses identified three classes of gang involvement among youth in Grades 7 to 12: gang members, gang associates, and non-affiliates. Multilevel (2- and 3-level) multinomial regressions then tested the predictive ability of baseline (Grade 5) ecological and cumulative risk factors on gang involvement, the effect of CTC on gang involvement, and the moderation of intervention effects relative to different levels of baseline community, school, family, peer, and individual risk. Results of the first aim indicate that most CTC risk factors were predictive of both gang association and gang membership. Results of the second aim find that CTC significantly reduced the odds of gang association by 31%, and results from the third aim find that these effects were equal among youth with different types and levels of ecological risk; however, CTC had no effect on gang membership. The findings of this dissertation suggest that broad, community-based prevention addressing multiple domains of risk are an effective method for the prevention of youth gang involvement. These results also provide further evidence that CTC is an efficient method toward reducing a broad range of problem behaviors among youth.