In Brief

To determine effects of neighborhoods on children and youth, researchers need to go beyond the data typically used and incorporate information from local crime reports, vital health statistics and interviews with community leaders and residents, according to this month's issue of APA's Psychological Bulletin (Vol. 26, No. 2).

In the past, researchers used census data to examine neighborhoods and their effects on child well-being, says the study's author, Tama Leventhal, PhD, research fellow, at Columbia University's Center for Children and Families.

The census data provide demographic and economic information on extent of poverty, number of female heads of household, rate of public assistance and male joblessness in a community. But, Leventhal says, as the field has become more sophisticated, researchers are beginning to use alternative strategies to examine more directly how neighborhoods affect children and families rather than hypothesizing about those effects. The article, which provides a comprehensive review of current research, is co-authored by Jeanne Brooks-Gunn, PhD, the center's director.

Census information has allowed researchers to find evidence that lower neighborhood socio-economic status and residential instability are often linked with behavioral problems in children and juvenile delinquency. Higher neighborhood socio-economic status is associated with superior achievement and educational outcomes.

"In order to get a better understanding of how neighborhoods affect children, researchers need to look at some of the underlying processes we hypothesize about, such as the crime level and amount of health-care resources in the community, to see if they really do affect children," says Leventhal.

Researchers need to look at:

  • Neighborhood resources, including learning, social and recreational activities, child care, schools, medical facilities and employment opportunities.

  • Parents' mental health, coping skills and physical health, the support networks available to them and the quality of the home environment.

  • The extent to which community groups and organizations supervise and monitor residents' behaviors, particularly through youth activities and attempts to curtail violence and substance abuse in their communities.

Researchers can obtain this information from local police departments, human and social services agencies and state and county health departments, by observing neighborhoods and by interviewing neighborhood residents, say Leventhal and Brooks-Gunn.