Background: Latino youth, particularly in rural settings, experience significant disparities in rates of teen pregnancy and violence. Few data are available regarding social and structural influences on Latino youth's developmental trajectories, specifically on factors that promote wellbeing and protect them from engagement in high-risk sexual and violence-related behaviors.
Methods: Forty-two youth aged 13 to 19 years old were recruited from middle schools and youth leadership programs to participate in one of eight community-based focus groups in Salinas, a predominantly Latino, urban center in California's rural central coast. Focus groups covered youths' experiences with the risk and protective factors associated with exposure to violence and romantic relationships. Four researchers completed coding with a Grounded Theory approach, informed by the theoretical frameworks of the social ecological model and social capital. The study's design and participant recruitment were informed by a community advisory board of local youth-serving organizations and health care providers.
Results: Participants described family lives rich in bonding social capital, with strong ties to parents and near-peer family members. They reported that while parents had a strong desire to promote healthful behaviors and social mobility, they often lacked the bridging or linking social capital required to help youth navigate structural systems, such as college applications and access to confidential health care. Youth also reported that some families link their children to negative social capital, such as exposure to gang affiliation.
Conclusion: Adolescents in this agricultural community identified robust sources of bonding social capital within their families. However, they identified limitations in their families' capacities to link them to structural resources in education, employment, and health care that could support healthful behaviors and upward social mobility.