Academic journal article Cityscape

Housing, Contexts, and the Well-Being of Children and Youth: Guest Editors' Introduction

Academic journal article Cityscape

Housing, Contexts, and the Well-Being of Children and Youth: Guest Editors' Introduction

Article excerpt

From time to time, most families with children carefully consider the consequences of their housing and neighborhood choices for their children. Policymakers allocate many billions of dollars to a wide variety of housing and neighborhood-based activities in the hope that these activities will foster the healthy development of the next generation. When parents and policymakers look to the social sciences for hard evidence in support of their decisions, however, they will find much of the literature disappointingly inconclusive. This symposium is intended to help build a better evidence base.

This symposium examines the relationship between housing and neighborhood contexts and the well-being of children and youth. The articles are based on the premise that time-invariant, familyand individual-level factors are not alone in affecting child and youth development, but that the contexts in which children grow up also independently influence outcomes. Thus, the articles reflect both an ecological framework that considers multiple levels (the individual child or youth, the family, the context in which they live or spend time) and a developmental perspective that asks how risk and protective factors vary by age and development stage. The articles highlight important issues and provide lessons for policymakers, practitioners, and researchers about how best to serve children and families, strengthen the communities in which they live, and advance research in this area.

This symposium demonstrates several types of cross-fertilization. The guest editors are affiliated with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and with the Administration for Children and Families in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The articles reflect multiple disciplines and bring together distinct literatures in new ways. For example-

* A large literature links moving, or residential mobility, with adverse outcomes for children and youth. The articles in this symposium take this literature further by exploring how the effects of mobility may vary by age and across outcomes.

* A large and growing research base examines neighborhood effects on children and families. These articles advance understanding of what neighborhood means and of what really matters in neighborhoods by critically assessing the concepts of housing and neighborhood and the tools we use to study them.

* A large literature discusses family homelessness. This symposium explores how homelessness is associated with child development and how service providers might ameliorate its negative effects.

Articles in the Symposium

In "Residential Mobility Among Children: A Framework for Child and Family Policy," Sara Anderson, Tama Leventhal, Sandra Newman, and Véronique Dupéré encourage the field to adopt a developmental perspective that takes into account the interaction between developmental period and exposure. Applying this approach to residential mobility, they argue that "moving may not be an equivalent experience for all children during all developmental periods." They review existing research and report on an exploratory analysis of their own to show how qualities of families, neighborhoods, peers, and schools vary in salience for children of different ages; they also describe how moving might affect these contexts in ways that influence development.

In "Profiles of Housing and Neighborhood Contexts Among Low-Income Families: Links With Children's Well-Being," Rebekah Levine Coley, Melissa Kull, Tama Leventhal, and Alicia Doyle Lynch propose that the variables defining housing contexts do not exist as independent factors in the real world. Instead, they argue, "we must identify how housing and neighborhood factors are linked together in particular patterns." Their analysis reveals four particular housing profiles that are associated with children's academic skills and emotional and behavioral problems. Counterintuitive results, they argue, suggest that modeling the effects of housing and neighborhood characteristics as if they function in an independent and unrelated way might obscure the true effects of housing and neighborhood on children's development. …

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