teen girl resting her chin in her hands

The Pennsylvania Youth Survey or “PAYS” is a biennial survey of youth in 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th grades. This voluntary survey is designed to gather information about youth’s knowledge, attitudes and behaviors towards alcohol, tobacco, and other drug use to help communities address root causes of antisocial behavior.

The PAYS helps to identify risk and protective factors. Risk factors are the things that make us more likely to try risky things (using substances, gambling, etc.). Protective factors (or strengths) are the things that help us to avoid trying risky things.

Everyone’s level of risk is different. In order to address a problem behavior, we must reduce risk AND increase protection. Through the PAYS, we can determine which risks need to be reduced and which strengths need to be increased. From there, we can identify tested and effective programs and policies that can be implemented in schools and communities to do just that.

Support for School Districts

Compass Mark staff are available to help schools understand their results and to collaborate on prevention programs that will address each school’s individual needs. School Districts that would like assistance utilizing their local PAYS data to plan for evidence-based prevention programs are encouraged to contact Matt Weaver (Lancaster County) at mweaver@compassmark.org or Michelle Sweitzer (Lebanon County) at msweitzer@compassmark.org.  Both can also be reached by phone at 717-299-2831.

An overview of results

Risk factors

A first for Lancaster County, all sixteen school districts participated in the 2017 PAYS.  In both Lancaster and Lebanon County, the largest risk identified was that youth do not perceive drug use to be risky. This means that they’re more likely to engage in drug use. This tells us that youth need more information about the risks associated with drug use. This information must be:

  • factual;
  • not a scare-tactic;
  • age-appropriate;
  • repeated over time.

The second most prevalent risk factors were low neighborhood attachment and low commitment toward school.

Protective factors

The greatest protective factor for Lancaster County was family attachment. This means that youth feel that they are a valued part of their family, making them less likely to engage in substance use and other problem behaviors. In Lebanon County, the most common protective factor was a belief in the moral order.  When a strength is identified, we must continue to implement programs and strategies that will bolster that protection.

Those are just two small pieces we can pull out of the PAYS report to identify and implement policies and programs that are relevant to the conditions in our community. For those interested in learning more about the PAYS or accessing the full reports for Lancaster and Lebanon Counties, please visit Compass Mark’s Research & Facts Sheets page.