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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development 12 Neighborhood and Community An African proverb, popularized by Hillary Rodham Clinton (1996), asserts that it takes an entire village to raise a child. Scientists have had a difficult time documenting “village-level” effects on children's development, yet parents who have the resources to select the neighborhoods in which they raise their families often spend substantial time and energy checking out schools, housing options, parks, children's programs, and other elements of communities that they believe will affect their children 's safety, achievement, and friendships. This reflects a belief that community and neighborhood conditions are important determinants of children's experiences and opportunities, and hence, life chances. Most research on neighborhood effects has focused on adolescents, whose time away from their homes may make them more susceptible than young children to neighborhood influences. Young children's interactions with people and institutions outside their immediate families have been relatively limited in scope and usually controlled closely by parents. This scenario is changing rapidly, however, as very young children are spending increasing amounts of time in settings other than their homes and with adults other than their parents. Moreover, there is substantially less attention paid to rural communities than to urban communities in this area of research and intervention. This chapter focuses on why and to what extent neighborhood contexts influence young children's development and the efficacy of intervention programs directed at them.
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development WHY NEIGHBORHOOD AND COMMUNITY CONDITIONS MAY MATTER FOR YOUNG CHILDREN Much of the recent work on neighborhood and community influences has focused on high-poverty urban settings, which have grown substantially in size in recent years. The fraction of poor urban families living in high-poverty neighborhoods (i.e., with 40 percent or more of residents in households with incomes below the poverty line) nearly doubled, from 17 percent in 1970 to 28 percent in 1990 (Kasarda, 1993). During this period, urban poverty has been especially concentrated in the Midwest, in such cities as Chicago, Detroit, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, as well as in New York. This profile of cities may change with the findings from the 2000 census, since concentrated urban poverty is a slowly moving target. Residence in high-poverty urban neighborhoods is much more likely for black and Hispanic than white children (Kasarda, 1993). Perhaps surprisingly, most poor children do not live in high-poverty urban neighborhoods. The most recent data, from the 1990 census, show that only 15 percent of all poor children live in high-poverty urban neighborhoods (Jargowky, 1997, Table 3.7). More than one-quarter of all poor children lived outside metropolitan areas altogether, while one-third lived in urban neighborhoods with poverty rates below 20 percent. These fractions differed little between young and older children. The combination of family and neighborhood poverty, however, is much more prevalent among black than either Hispanic or white children. Some 27 percent of poor black children lived in high-poverty urban neighborhoods, compared with 20 percent of Hispanic and only 3 percent of white children. These children thus experience the double risk of family and neighborhood poverty. William Julius Wilson (1987) galvanized empirical research on community and neighborhood effects with his description and analysis of conditions in high-poverty, inner-city Chicago neighborhoods. He documented the poor employment prospects, poor marriage pool, violence, and high mobility that were endemic to these neighborhoods. He also provided explanations of structural changes that produced these conditions as well as of how life in high-poverty urban neighborhoods affects the families and children living in them. Wilson hypothesized that massive changes in the economic structure of inner cities, when combined with residential mobility among more advantaged blacks, have resulted in homogeneously impoverished neighborhoods that provide neither resources nor positive role models for the children and adolescents who reside in them. Bronfenbrenner's (1979) ecological model of child development portrays nested layers of influence on children emanating from the family out to the more amorphous realms of neighborhoods, policies, and social values. More recently,
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development theories have been proposed to capture the ways in which neighborhood and community processes may affect children's development (Coulton, 1996; Earls and Buka, 2000; Haveman and Wolfe, 1994; Jencks and Mayer, 1990), including: stress theory, which emphasizes the importance of exposure to such physical toxins as lead in soil and paint, as well as such social and psychological conditions as community violence; social organization theory, based on the importance of role models and value consensus in the neighborhood, which in turn limits and controls problem behavior among young people; institutional explanations, in which the neighborhood's institutions (e.g., schools, police protection) rather than neighbors per se make the difference; and epidemic theories, based primarily on the power of peer influences to spread problem behavior. Proponents of stress theory, such as Earls and Buka (2000), emphasize the damaging developmental consequences of exposure to violence and to physiological hazards, such as ambient lead and asthma-inducing air pollutants. For other theorists, the extent of social organization in a neighborhood may well matter for families with young children. Neighborhoods in which parents frequently come into contact with one another and share values are more likely to monitor the behavior of and potential dangers to children (Sampson, 1992; Sampson and Groves, 1989). Contact among parents may lead them to share ways of dealing with the problem behavior of their children, encouraging their talents, connecting to community health and other resources, and organizing neighborhood activities (Klebanov et al., 1997). Others argue further that practices of family management are key to understanding how neighborhood and community conditions may affect children's development (Furstenberg et al., 1998). They point out that families formulate different strategies for raising children in high-risk neighborhoods, ranging from extreme protection and insulation to assuming an active role in developing community-based networks of “social capital” that can help children at key points in their academic or labor market careers. Institutional models stress the importance for children of neighborhood resources—parks, libraries, children's programs—which provide more enriching opportunities in relatively affluent neighborhoods than are usually available in resource-poor neighborhoods. Here again, the perceived level of neighborhood safety matters, since parents' willingness to take advantage of existing neighborhood resources may depend on their perceptions of the safety and consequences of doing so.
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development Since adolescents typically spend a good deal of time away from their homes, explanations of neighborhood influences involving peer-based “epidemics,” role models, schools, and other neighborhood-based resources would appear to be more relevant for them than for younger children. However, interactions between preschool children and their kin, neighbors, religious communities, child care, and health systems suggest that neighborhood influences may begin long before adolescence (Klebanov et al., 1997). Despite ample theoretical reasons to suspect that neighborhood conditions influence development and behavior, the task of securing precise, robust, and unbiased estimates of neighborhood effects has proved remarkably difficult (Duncan and Raudenbush, 1999; Manski, 1993). One important difficulty is measuring a neighborhood's social organization, institutions, and levels of violence. A subtler problem arises from the fact that families are not randomly allocated to their residential neighborhoods, which may lead researchers to mistakenly attribute effects to neighborhood factors that are really caused by unmeasured differences in the children's parents. The major challenge facing those who seek to understand how family contexts affect early development is that parents usually select these environments. They decide where to live, where and how much to work, and whether and when to place their babies in child care and which child care settings to use. Thus, effects on children that are ascribed to such factors as neighborhoods may, in fact, really be effects of parent selection. Compounding this problem is the high mobility that characterizes families with young children. Nearly one-fourth of young children ages 1 to 5 move to a new home during the course of a year, with moves only slightly more common among black and Hispanic than among white young children. A final problem is that of isolating the effects of conditions in the worst urban neighborhoods from effects caused by the more general range of neighborhood conditions. Representative population surveys typically draw relatively few families from high-poverty urban neighborhoods. Analysts using these surveys base estimates of neighborhood effects on relative differences among more advantaged, mostly white families and children. If neighborhood conditions matter more for disadvantaged than advantaged children, as some have found (Cook et al., 1998), then studies of neighborhood effects based on broad population samples may miss an important part of the story. ASSOCIATIONS BETWEEN NEIGHBORHOOD CONDITIONS AND CHILD DEVELOPMENT Most broad-based neighborhood studies rely on data gathered in the decennial census. Every 10 years, the Census Bureau provides information that can be used to construct neighborhood-based measures, such as the
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development fraction of individuals who are poor, the fraction of adults with a college degree, and the fraction of adult men without jobs. Such data are available for census tracts (geographic areas encompassing 4,000 to 6,000 individuals, with boundaries drawn to approximate neighborhood areas) as well as larger geographically defined areas. One striking result in broad-based studies of neighborhood effects on young children is that there are many more differences in families and children within neighborhoods than between them. As a result, in one study, neighborhood factors such as poverty, male joblessness, and ethnic diversity were found to account for only a small share of the differences across 5- to 6-year-old children in problem behaviors and academic achievement (Klebanov et al., 1997, Table 4.10). The presence or absence of affluent, high-income neighbors, rather than of poor neighbors, related more strongly to child and adolescent outcomes. This may not be a direct effect of income per se; it may derive from the differing social and interpersonal resources that are available in higher-income neighborhoods, as emphasized in social organization theories of neighborhood influence, as well as their greater support for sustaining academic achievement and other positive efforts (Darling and Steinberg, 1993). Yet neighborhood conditions added at most 2 percent to the explained variation in young children's outcomes over and above family conditions. Neighborhood factors also do not account for much of the variation in parental mental health and family management practices. Using data from the Infant Health and Development Program, Klebanov et al. (1994) found that at most 4 percent of the variation in the depression, social support, and behavioral coping of mothers of preschoolers could be accounted for by neighborhood conditions. With data from a diverse set of Philadelphia neighborhoods, Furstenberg et al. (1999: Table 7.1) found similar results for their measures of the psychological resources of adolescents' care-givers—fully 90 percent of the variance in family management practices was found within rather than between neighborhoods. These results indicate that even if we could somehow equalize neighborhood conditions, it would have little impact on the dispersion of family mental health and management practices or on individual differences in children's behavior problems and achievement. However, we caution against drawing more practical policy conclusions from these patterns of explained variance (Cain and Watts, 1972; Duncan and Raudenbush, in press; Rosenthal and Rubin, 1982). The cost-effectiveness of a neighborhood intervention depends on effect sizes relative to cost, and socially profitable intervention policies are quite possible in the context of a small amount of explained variation. The neighborhood study of Sampson, Raudenbush, and Earls (1997) is noteworthy for its focus on the “collective efficacy” of neighborhoods. This
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development potentially important component of a neighborhood's social organization was measured by conducting a survey of adult residents in sampled neighborhoods rather than relying exclusively on demographic census-based measures. Collective efficacy combines social cohesion (the extent to which neighbors trust each other and share common values) with informal social control (the extent to which neighbors can count on each other to monitor and supervise youth and protect public order). It is thus a capacity for collective action shared by neighbors. They find that collective efficacy so defined relates strongly to neighborhood levels of violence, personal victimization, and homicide in Chicago, after controlling for social composition and previous crime. One could imagine that lower levels of neighborhood violence and crime might change parenting practices in ways that benefit young children, although that possibility has not yet been tested with these or other data. Taken together, this picture of at best modest neighborhood influences based on population samples is at odds with more specialized studies focused on very bad neighborhoods. For example, in a sample of patients in a Boston pediatric clinic, Taylor and colleagues (1992) found that 1 in 10 children witnessed a violent event prior to age 6, while Buka and colleagues (Buka and Birdthistle, 1997; Buka et al., submitted) estimated that about 1 in 4 urban youths reports having seen someone murdered during childhood. There are no corresponding figures for children raised in better neighborhoods. Psychiatric problems ranging from posttraumatic stress and aggression to externalizing behavioral disorders are more common among children and youth who witness violence (Singer et al., 1995). Neighborhood violence may also have indirect effects on development, if mothers in physically dangerous neighborhoods restrict their children's interactions with peers and adults (Lipsey and Wilson, 1993). Among physiological hazards, lead poisoning continues to pose a threat to the healthy development of children, and disproportionately to low-income children of color living in central cities. As described in Chapter 8, excess lead in blood has been tied to such neurobehavioral problems as attention deficits, and poor children are disproportionately at risk for exposure to lead (Brody et al., 1994). Epidemiologists have linked the elevated levels of lead in poor urban children to old housing stock, which often still contains lead-based paint and other environmental contaminants, such as leaded gasoline. Although discontinued in the 1980s, the legacy of leaded gasoline emissions remains through elevated levels of lead in the soil, especially in central cities that are heavily congested with traffic (Mielke et al., 1997). Combining data from the Massachusetts 1990 statewide screening of children 's blood lead levels and the decennial census, Sargent et al. (1995) investigated what characteristics of communities were correlated with heightened risk for lead poisoning. They found that the odds for
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development having elevated levels of lead were nearly 9 times above average in communities in which 20 percent of the children under age 5 were living in poverty, 5.5 times higher if the community was densely populated, and 8 times higher than average if more than 10 percent of the community received public assistance. Similarly, studies in Minnesota (Nordin et al., 1998) and Louisiana (Mielke et al., 1997) have found that poverty, residence in central cities, and old housing stock considerably elevate the risk for high levels of lead in children 's blood and pose a threat to their healthy development. EXPERIMENTAL EVIDENCE ON NEIGHBORHOOD EFFECTS Three other studies are noteworthy because they evaluate the effectiveness of residential mobility strategies for families living in high-poverty neighborhoods. In contrast to the studies described above, these studies use an experimental or quasi-experimental approach to estimate the influence of neighborhoods on children. Taken together, results from these three studies suggest that neighborhood characteristics may influence children's well-being to a greater extent than nonexperimental studies seem to indicate. As part of the 1976 Gautreaux court case (Rosenbaum, 1991), nearly 4,000 families living in Chicago's high-rise housing projects volunteered to participate in a subsidized program that arranged for private housing, much of it in predominantly white Chicago suburbs, but some of it in predominantly white sections of the city of Chicago itself. Since participants were assigned to the first available housing and were not allowed to choose between city and suburban locations, their assignment to locations constituted a kind of quasi-experimental manipulation. Rosenbaum (1991) reports an impressive series of positive differences, both in the employment outcomes for adults and in developmental outcomes for their children, for the families assigned to the suburban rather than to the city locations. For example, the high school dropout rate of children moving to suburban locations was one-quarter the size of the dropout rate of children moving to city addresses (20 percent in the city versus less than 5 percent in the suburbs—Kaufman and Rosenbaum, 1992), while the corresponding college enrollment rate was doubled (54 versus 21 percent). These studies did not investigate effects on young children. With funding for 10 years, the Moving to Opportunity experiment randomly assigned residents of housing projects in five of the nation's largest cities to one of three groups: (1) a group receiving housing subsidies to move into low-poverty neighborhoods, (2) a comparison group receiving a subsidy for moving into higher-rent housing (through the Section 8 program) but not constrained in their locations, and (3) a second comparison group receiving no special assistance. The vast majority of families who
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development volunteered for the program reported that escaping from gangs and drugs was their most important reason for participating in the program. Katz et al. (1999) used the experimental data from the Boston site to evaluate the effects of the program on, among other things, maternal reports of the health and behavior problems of children between ages 6 and 15 and on their own mental health. They found significantly fewer injuries, accidents, and asthma attacks for children in the experimental compared with the control groups. Furthermore, rates of behavior problems among boys in the experimental group were significantly lower than among boys in the control groups. Measures such as “is cruel or mean to others” showed a larger experimental effect than measures such as “is unhappy, sad or depressed.” In the case of behavior problems, there were no significant differences in program or control groups for girls. Ludwig et al. (in press) used the experimental data from the Baltimore site to evaluate the effects of the program on the frequency of criminal activity among adolescents, as reflected in the criminal offender records of the Maryland Department of Juvenile Justice. They found a sizable and statistically significant reduction in the proportion of youth who were arrested for violent offenses. However, property crime arrests appeared to be higher for the experimental group, particularly in the first year after the move, perhaps reflecting the greater opportunities for property theft in the new, more affluent locations. How do we reconcile the large effects found in the Gautreaux and Moving to Opportunity studies with the more modest impacts found in the nonexperimental literature? One possibility is that the effects found in the experimental studies are less biased owing to their experimental designs. Another is that improving neighborhood conditions matters a lot for the development of children in the worst neighborhoods —a finding that could be masked in population-based studies that look at a wide range of neighborhoods. A third possibility is that the nature of the samples for these two interventions—which consisted of voluntary participants who were also, to some extent, screened by those administering the programs—produced larger effects than would be the case for a less selective sample of low-income, inner-city families. Whether beneficial effects extend from schoolage to younger children is another critical issue that needs to be addressed in research on neighborhoods. SUMMARY AND CONCLUSIONS Although most urban poor families still live outside high-poverty neighborhoods, the past quarter century has produced an alarming growth in the fraction of poor urban families who do live in such neighborhoods. The combination of family poverty and neighborhood poverty poses double risk to a substantial minority of black children and, to a lesser extent, to His-
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From Neurons to Neighborhoods: The Science of Early Childhood Development panic children, who are much more likely than white children to grow up in these circumstances. When juxtaposed with the rapid growth in these populations of children, this becomes a very worrisome finding. Evidence on the impacts of neighborhood conditions on children's development is complex and continues to raise more questions than answers. For children residing outside the nation's inner cities, neighborhood conditions appear to be far less consequential for children 's development than conditions within the family. Population-based studies are consistent in showing much more variation in achievement, behavior, and parenting within than across neighborhoods. This certainly does not rule out the possibility of cost-effective community-based interventions outside high-poverty urban areas. Nor does it imply that certain children aren't affected in fundamental ways by the events and conditions in their neighborhoods. It may be the case that neighborhoods matter most when other risk factors are present, such as family poverty or mental health problems within families. Yet for children living in dangerous environments, neighborhood conditions may matter a great deal. Such neighborhood conditions as crime, violence, and environmental health hazards constitute potent risk factors for children. Experimental evidence suggests that moving from high-poverty to low-poverty neighborhoods enhances the physical and psychological health of children and reduces violent crimes committed by adolescents. We do not yet know whether smaller, more easily achieved changes in neighborhood conditions will produce cost-beneficial improvements for young children's development.
Representative terms from entire chapter: