Academic journal article Family Relations

Protective Family Factors in the Context of Neighborhood: Promoting Positive School Outcomes

Academic journal article Family Relations

Protective Family Factors in the Context of Neighborhood: Promoting Positive School Outcomes

Article excerpt


Three developmental contexts-school, neighborhood, and family-influence school outcomes. The focus of the current investigation was on the promotive role of 4 family factors-family satisfaction, family support, family integration, and home academic culture-on 3 school outcomes. These outcomes included student self-reported sense of school coherence, avoidance of problem behavior, and academic performance. Utilizing a hierarchical linear modeling strategy and a national probability sample, the family protective factors of interest displayed a significant but differential pattern of impact on the 3 school outcomes studied. Findings related to neighborhood and school factors, as well as race/ethnicity, are also reported and discussed. The implications of these findings with respect to practice and policy are addressed.

Key Words: child development, family functioning, neighborhood effects, risk and protective factors, school outcomes.

School success is a central outcome of the complex processes that influence child development. Such processes occur within and among three key environments: school, neighborhood, and family (Richman, Bowen, & Woolley, 2004). For example, various characteristics of the school environment have been demonstrated to affect school behavior and academic outcomes such as the relationships between and among staff and students, school safety, and school size (Freiberg, 1999). Likewise, neighborhood factors such as crime and violence, peer culture, poverty, and neighborhood satisfaction have also been shown to have an impact on school outcomes (Bowen, Bowen, & Ware, 2002).

Theoretical Framework and Study Aims

Guided by a contextualist worldview (Goldhaber, 2000), the current study conceptualizes physical and social environments as playing key roles in developmental outcomes. This conceptualization was informed by the eco-interactional-developmental (EID) perspective (Richman et al., 2004). Informed by both the ecological systems theory and a developmental orientation, the EID perspective suggests that there are hierarchical environmental contexts that impact developmental outcomes (Bronfenbrenner, 1986). Microsystems are settings that directly influence a child including both the physical environment and his or her social relationships. Mesosystems are the connections among these microsystems; examples would include the family culture with respect to educational issues, or the relationships between the family and neighborhood residents and organizations.

This nested map of the environments that youth inhabit is typically the central aspect of ecological theory that is discussed. However, Bronfenbrenner (2005) has also presented two mechanisms for how these environments impact development. Proximal processes consist of the interpersonal relationships between the developing child and the adults and peers in his or her microsystems. Environmental contexts are the other characteristics of these microsystems, from the local economy to neighborhood crime rates and the availability of recreational activities. Both the mechanisms inform us about how the environment influences school outcomes.

In combining ecological theory with a risk, protection, and resilience perspective, Fraser (2004) also provides a conceptual framework that informs practice and policy. Risk factors are environmental characteristics that predict poor developmental outcomes, whereas protective factors promote positive developmental outcomes. Resilience is the dynamic interplay of environmental, social, and individual protective factors, in the context of risk exposure, leading to positive adaptation and desirable outcomes (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000). From an EID perspective, resilience-based practice requires both assessing strengths and building protection while assessing deficits and reducing risk exposure (Pollard, Hawkins, & Arthur, 1999).

Informed by an EID perspective, school outcomes can be conceptualized on a developmental continuum of distal to proximal outcomes with respect to school achievement. …

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