By Zach Armstrong

Staff Writer


DINWIDDIE, Va -- The 2020 Youth Prevention Needs Assessment for Dinwiddie shows that Dinwiddie youth could use more access to physical activity and mental health assistance while being consistent with youth nationally on use of drugs and weapons.

The assessment was initiated by the Dinwiddie Department of Children’s Services and is conducted every five years to support programs provided through the Department of Social Services, Department of Children’s Services and Department of Juvenile Justice.

The assessment included data collection mechanisms to include, a standardized youth survey, focus groups and key informant interviews. Social indicator data was also collected for comparison purposes. A total of 1,526 students responded to the survey with 546 being middle school students and 980 being high school students.

The assessment was presented by Angel Young-Gill, Director of the Dinwiddie Department Of Children's Services to the Dinwiddie Board of Supervisors at a recent regular meeting.

The assessment reported that Dinwiddie youth carry weapons at a slightly lower rate than youth nationally and are more likely to use weapons for recreational purposes such as hunting and target shooting than youth in other areas of the country.

Dinwiddie High School respondents’ results showed 2.4% carried a weapon on school property 30 days before the survey, 0.4% lower than the national high school rate of 2.8%. A majority of county high school youth (93.1%) reported that they weren’t threatened or injured by a weapon on school property.

High School youth in the county reported that 65% had never been harmed by someone they were dating or going out with.

Of those DCHS students surveyed, 26.8% reported they were bullied on school property. Nationally, 19.5% of youth surveyed reported they were bullied on school property and 15.7% of national high school respondents reported being bullied electronically.

Of Dinwiddie Middle School youth, 41.8% of respondents reported they were bullied on school property. Statewide, 39.6% of middle school students reported being bullied on school property.

With regard to drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, Dinwiddie youth appear to be using them at levels consistent to those reported by youth nationally. Regardless of drug type, Dinwiddie youth report their first experience occurring between ages 13 and 16. According to the assessment, that data “supports a recommendation that prevention programs begin at the elementary school level and messages be carried through high school.”

While the rate of suicide among middle and high school students nationwide is concerning, 17% of high school students and 23% of middle school students in Dinwiddie County reported having seriously considered attempting suicide.

“As we return to in-person school and activities, it is critical that parents and professionals, alike, be hypersensitive to the warning signs of distress and the mental health needs of our students.” stated the assessment.

The assessment showed that Dinwiddie has the lowest level of children with teen pregnancy for the age group 15-19 and is consistently lower than those of Prince George, Sussex, Surry, Greensville and cities of Hopewell, Petersburg and Emporia.

30.5% of Dinwiddie High School youth reported having had sexual intercourse compared to the national rate of 38.4%. 7.8% reported their first sexual intercourse at age 15; and 7.6% reported their first sexual intercourse at age 14. 5.4% reportedly drank alcohol or used drugs before they had sexual intercourse, significantly lower than the national rate of 21.2%.

55.8% of Dinwiddie High School students reported not using a condom during sexual intercourse, slightly higher than the national rate of 45.7%. Of Dinwiddie middle school students, 7.7% indicated they have had sexual intercourse, 4.8% of which reported using a condom.

The percentage of youth reporting no physical activity of at least 60 minutes per day for the week prior to taking the survey was unchanged since 2015. Focus groups identified under-involved and/or ineffective parenting as contributing factors to youth not participating in physical activities or having hobbies.

The assessment pointed out that the county public school system offers services and programs to address issues identified through the needs assessment.

“While there appears to be much being done by Dinwiddie County Public Schools to address substance use and violence, it is important to note that these messages are most effective when carried over into the community and homes.” stated the assessment. “Involving parents in youth programming will serve to enhance messages received by children. In addition to spending quality time with their parent(s) through dialogue and discussion, students will learn their parents’ feelings and beliefs regarding alcohol, tobacco and other drugs, violence, delinquency and sexual behavior.”

The assessment went on to say that “by taking time to be involved in their children’s lives, parents will increase each child’s sense of self-worth. Through education and support, programs geared toward parents will assist them in talking with their children about sensitive and controversial topics. While many look to the school system to provide programming that targets youth needs, including a community perspective may prove more effective in approaching and addressing youth issues. By working together, schools, communities and parents can ensure that youth are afforded every opportunity to be successful.”