Observed Neighborhood Characteristics as an Indicator of Child Safety and Well-Being Jim McDonell, D.S.W. Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, Clemson University International Society for Child Indicators Inaugural Conference June 26, 2007 Chicago, Illinois
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Observed Neighborhood Characteristics as an Indicator of Child Safety and Well-Being
Jim McDonell, D.S.W.
Institute on Family and Neighborhood Life, Clemson University
International Society for Child Indicators
June 26, 2007
This research was supported by a grant from the Duke Endowment
Neighborhood context important for child and family well-being. Studies have linked physical and social setting to:
Gaps in knowledge:
The available evidence is promising. Studies have found that:
Conceptual and methodological challenges to research on neighborhood effects:
Measurement is one of the more vexing challenges. Typically handled in one or both of two ways.
Both have limitations
Macro-level indicators are at too general a level of abstraction to really say much about neighborhood residents, and there is often a lag between when the data were collected and used.
Individual level measures may capture community context but have to cover a lot of ground to do so. As a result, data collection is often overly intrusive and taxing to community residents.
Direct observation of neighborhood features is a more straight forward approach.
Study builds on earlier work by applying an observational measure of neighborhood characteristics to studies of:
The research draws on three studies as part of the evaluation of Strong Communities for Children in the Golden Strip.
Begun in 2002 and supported by the Duke Endowment, Strong Communities is a ten-year effort to demonstrate and evaluate a neighborhood-based strategy to reduce child maltreatment proposed by the U.S. Advisory Board on Child Abuse and Neglect
Designed to engage the entire community in preventing child maltreatment by making child protection part of everyday life
For more information, visit the initiative’s website at: http://www.clemson.edu/strongcommunities/
Item pool generated from literature and previous work.
Photographs of endpoints of neighborhood features were taken or located to:
Item pool was reviewed based on these observations with 36 items retained.
Rating scale was pilot tested by students in a graduate Sociology course.
Debriefing relative to content, ease of administration, and administration protocol led to further modifications.
Final version created and raters trained.
Physical appearance: Streets
Three independent ratings on each of 104 neighborhoods in 60 census block groups in southern Greenville County, SC.
Neighborhoods were selected by convenience.
A census block level road network map was created.
Neighborhoods were determined by aggregations of roads having an apparent geographic relationship. This could include road aggregations:
Independent selections were made by the researchers and were compared to make final selections.
Intra-class correlation was used to gauge inter-rater reliability. Results showed that 69% of observations were reliable for three raters and 81% were reliable for two raters.
Analysis of the underlying structure produced factors for:
Physical appearance (37.1% of variance) – alpha for items = .91
Social organization (21.9% of variance) – alpha for items = .73
Social engagement (15.0% of variance) – alpha for items = .69
Preliminary evidence for construct validity, with scales and items correlating in the expected direction with measures of neighborhood distress, and self-report and demographic data from a survey of residents in the same neighborhoods.
The current version of the Neighborhood Rating Scale, then, consists of:
Survey of random sample of 229 parents/caregivers of young children age 10 and under in the same neighborhoods in which observational data were collected. 138-item parent survey measured:
Know neighborhood childrenNeighboring activities
Collective efficacyNeighborhood satisfaction
Social support/mutual assistanceParenting stress/parenting efficacy
Child neglect observation/actionChild household safety
Observed/self-report parentingChild medical care
Data on injuries were extracted from routine hospital incident reports for inpatient admissions and emergency room visits from July 2002 through June 2004 for children age 18 and younger.
Individual ICD-9 codes were aggregated at the census block group level using the same block groups as in the neighborhood observations and parent/caregiver survey.
The initial pool of ICD-9 codes were generated from a list of codes used in a Centers for Disease Control study to improve child maltreatment surveillance.
The codes were submitted to a panel of Pediatricians who used a five-point scale to rate each code on the extent to which it was suggestive of child maltreatment.
An a priori criterion level of an average rating of 3.6 was set for inclusion of a code in the final pool.
Age and gender criteria were also considered.
Injuries that had causes clearly identifiable as unintentional (e.g., legal intervention) or that occurred in certain locations (e.g., sports injuries) were excluded.
The final pool of codes were classified as
Cases from both years were averaged to form a baseline and prevalence rates were calculated for each census block group.
Data from all three studies were combined and analyzed through hierarchical regression to test the extent to which neighborhood characteristics predicted resident perceptions of children’s safety at home and ICD-9 coded child injuries.
Education, income, neighborhood stability and level of neighborhood distress were held constant.
35% of injuries were classified as suggestive of physical abuse; 56.5% as suggestive of sexual abuse; and 8.4% were suggestive of child maltreatment not otherwise classified;
70.5% of cases were females, 29.5% males;
Model accounts for 27% of the variance in child household safety (unadjusted R2), or 23% (adjusted R2)
Model accounts for 33% of the variance in ICD-9 codes suggestive of child physical abuse (unadjusted R2), or 29% (adjusted R2)
Physical and social characteristics of neighborhoods are potent predictors of children’s household safety, accounting for 27% of the variance, and injuries suggestive of child physical abuse.
Several conclusions may be drawn from these findings:
The factors comprising neighborhood appearance are generally amenable to change.
Concerted action by residents through neighborhood associations and linking such organizations across neighborhoods for policy advocacy and direct action.
High symbolic barrier density may indicate social fragmentation in the neighborhood.
Increasing opportunities for social interaction, through neighborhood events may help reduce such fragmentation.
Research findings show that neighborhood cohesion is a protective factor for child safety and well-being
Enlist civic groups/faith community in this effort.
Children are sensitive to the normative environment of the neighborhood, and neighborhood norms directly impact children’s safety and well-being.
Neighborhood norms reflect the collective beliefs and actions of residents.
Efforts to foster a normative environment that sees to children’s safety will help protect children in the neighborhood and in the home.
This is supported by the finding that resident and public safety efforts to enforce safety norms is predictive of children’s safety.
Finally, the Neighborhood Rating Scale is a useful tool for: