Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts: News from Greater Falls Church

There was some good news in the midst of Fairfax County’s dialogues on the current economy and next year’s anticipated budget challenges.

Last Friday, following an intense budget meeting with the Fairfax County School Board, both boards received the results of the 2008 Fairfax County Youth Survey. The survey, completed by more than 22,000 public school students in the 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th grades, included questions on youth behaviors, both healthy and risky. For the first time, the survey included a few age-appropriate questions on sexual behavior.

Almost all survey respondents reported that they have lots of opportunities to get involved in positive activities in and outside of school. Nearly a quarter of Fairfax County youth are physically active for at least 60 minutes every day. More than two-thirds of Fairfax County youth have not used any drugs or alcohol in the past 30 days, which continues the downward trend for all substance use since 2001. Youth first trying alcohol at age 12 or younger has decreased by nine percentage points since 2001.

However, binge drinking (five or more drinks in one sitting) was not uncommon among 12th graders. Inhalant use (substances such as glue, shoe polish, and other toluene or nitrous oxide-based products) was more common among sixth and eighth graders than in high school grades. The survey also revealed that Fairfax County youth have slightly higher rates of depression and considering suicide than youth nationally. Similar to national trends, races and ethnicities other than White are more likely to report feeling depressed and considering suicide. Bullying is more common in early grades; 18 percent of 6th graders reported being bullied, taunted, ridiculed, or teased at least once a week. Interestingly, the survey also found that 60 percent of female students are trying to lose weight, perhaps a reflection of our image-obsessed culture for teenage girls and young women.

On another positive side, 96 percent of youth report that they have never been in a gang. Overall, a lower percentage of students report ever having been in a gang for every grade level, both genders, and all reported ethnicities compared to 2001. Males are still more likely to belong to a gang than females, and most of those responding “yes” said that the gang had a name. The survey also noted that youth who have been involved in a gang are more likely to have been abused by an intimate partner or forced to have sex.

Building on the responses to the Youth Survey, county agencies and the school system will continue their collaborative approach to ensure a continued downward trend in substance abuse, implement evidence-based strategies related to middle school inhalant prevention, and support the mental health of children and their families. The plan should be completed and approved for implementation by the end of FY 2009. The complete report, as well as the 2001, 2003, and 2005 youth survey reports may be found on-line at www.fairfaxcounty/gov/youthsurvey.

Now that the weather has turned colder, many local faith groups will house homeless persons overnight on an emergency basis through the winter. The hypothermia project relies on partnerships between Fairfax County, non-profit organizations who administer the county shelters, and the faith community which provides both overflow housing and food. Preparing enough food for the 40 or so people who might show up for a warm meal and a place to sleep when the weather is frigid is a mighty challenge for church volunteers. If you or your organization can provide meals for even one night, please contact Thornell Hancock, 703/820-7621, or email thancock@voaches.org for more information.