Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Keeping Youth Safe: It Takes a Neighborhood

Magazine article Clinical Psychiatry News

Keeping Youth Safe: It Takes a Neighborhood

Article excerpt

It may take a village to raise a child, but it takes a neighborhood to keep one safe. That's the message from new research looking at the impact of neighborhood-level factors on aggressive and delinquent behavior among urban adolescents.

This impact of neighborhood influences on child and adolescent outcomes has been the focus of a substantial body of literature in recent years, most of which has linked adverse child outcomes to neighborhoods with constellations of adverse conditions and risk factors, including poverty, residential instability, and crime. The processes by which neighborhood conditions influence specific individual outcomes, however, have not been well explored.

Toward this end, Beth E. Molnar, Ph.D., and her colleagues at Harvard School of Public Health in Boston sought to identify the relationship between certain neighborhood characteristics and youth violence. The investigators used data derived from a longitudinal study of mental health and the development of antisocial behavior among urban youth in Chicago to determine whether and to what degree aggression and delinquency could be linked to the availability of neighborhood resources.

As part of the source study, called the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods, baseline assessments conducted between 1995 and 1997 and two additional follow-up interviews conducted at 24-month intervals were obtained for 2,226 children and adolescents (9-15 years old) and their caregivers from 80 neighborhood clusters with diverse race /ethnicity and socioeconomic composition (Am. J. Public Health 2008; 98: 1086-93).

At each interview, various validated measures were used to assess levels of aggression and delinquency based on behaviors the youth had engaged in within the previous 6 months. The investigators also assessed individual-level assets, such as family, peer, and mentoring resources, school attendance, participation in school-based activities, and perceptions about the harmfulness of substance use.

The investigators examined measures of collective efficacy, defined as mutual trust among neighbors combined with willingness to intervene on behalf of the common good. Additionally, they considered the availability of local organizations, resources, and programs as well as measures of intergenerational closure (how well neighbors knew the parents of their children's friends) and social networking.

Based on multilevel models of aggression and delinquency, the investigators observed significantly lower levels of aggression among youth who lived in neighborhoods with a high concentration of organizations and services serving young people and adults. Living in such a neighborhood moderated the protective effect associated with family, peer, and mentor resources. "The significant interaction between the availability of organizations and services, and the presence of prosocial peers suggests that these two resources in combination were especially protective against aggressive behavior," Dr. Molnar said.

Neighborhood collective efficacy also proved protective against highly aggressive behavior, and while it did not have a statistically significant effect on delinquent behaviors, it was significantly associated with important individual-level resources. "If these [individual-level] resources are to confer positive effects on youth, neighborhood collective efficacy is important," Dr. Molnar noted. The findings, she said, suggest that interventions designed to reduce violence among urban youth should focus, in part, on increasing neighborhood resources.

Increasing a sense of neighborhood connection may also be a promising strategy, according to the results of another recent study conducted by the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Rachel Widome, Ph.D., of the university's Healthy Youth Development-Prevention Research Center and her colleagues investigated the association between measures of adolescent neighborhood connection and violence-related behaviors. …

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