Background Few studies have explored protective factors in the assessment of risk, despite acknowledgement that protective factors may play an important role.

Aim To examine the significance of protective factors in assessment of risk using the Structured Assessment of Violence Risk in Youth (SAVRY).

Method The SAVRY was completed on 135 male adolescents in custody in the UK. Data on previous offending and childhood psychopathology were collected. Participants were prospectively followed up at 12 months using data from the Home Office Police National Computer (HOPNC).

Results Participants with protective factors were older when first arrested, were less prolific offenders and had fewer psychopathological problems. The number of protective factors present was significantly higher for participants who did not re-offend during the follow-up. The total number of SAVRY protective factors significantly predicted desistance at follow-up and resilient personality traits constituted the only significant individual protective factor.

Conclusions and implications Protective factors might buffer the effects of risk factors and a resilient personality may be crucial. Recognition of protective factors should be an essential part of the risk management process and for interventions with high-risk adolescents to reduce re-offending. Copyright © 2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.