Session: Neighborhood Effects Research and Social Work: Findings, Challenges and the Future (Society for Social Work and Research 15th Annual Conference: Emerging Horizons for Social Work Research)

104 Neighborhood Effects Research and Social Work: Findings, Challenges and the Future

Saturday, January 15, 2011: 8:00 AM-9:45 AM
Meeting Room 11 (Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina)
Cluster: Poverty and Social Policy
Speakers/Presenters:  Daniel Brisson, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Denver, Denver, CO, Richard Smith, PhD, Assistant Professor, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, Megan E. Gilster, PhD, Postdoctoral Scholar, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI, Claudia Coulton, PhD, Professor, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, OH and Michelle A. Johnson, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, CA
Research clearly shows that the neighborhood in which one lives has an effect on wide ranging individual outcomes including health and well-being, safety, academic success, child development, and economic success. Studies on neighborhood inequality, represented in the scholarly literature by terms such as concentrated disadvantage, neighborhood deprivation, or neighborhood poverty, strongly suggest that there are detrimental effects associated with living in certain low-income places, and that the racial composition of neighborhoods can have a significant impact on individual and family outcomes. Research on the effect neighborhoods have on residents, above and beyond individual characteristics, is commonly called neighborhood effects. Neighborhood effects are critical for much of social work research as our focus is on the well-being of individuals within their ecological context. Fortunately, relatively recent advances in analytic techniques have made testing and understanding neighborhood effects fully accessible to social work scholars. This roundtable will discuss ways the social work field can fully embrace neighborhood effects in a unified theoretical framework that can be critical for addressing the needs of vulnerable individuals and families. The purpose of this roundtable is to bring social work researchers interested in neighborhood effects together to discuss: 1) what we currently know about the effects of neighborhoods on vulnerable individuals and families; 2) important methodological advances in the field and methodological challenges that still must be overcome and; 3) possible directions for social work researchers interested in continuing to advance our understanding of neighborhood effects.

Five social work researchers, who study neighborhood effects, will discuss their work on the following topics and invite discussion and debate about the role of neighborhood effects in social work research. First, discussants will identify what we know about neighborhood effects from theory and research across disciplines. Discussants will briefly address classic research on the topic and then provide greater depth from recent advances in our understanding of neighborhoods. Discussants will then present advances in analytic techniques that have made understanding neighborhood effects wholly accessible, including hierarchical linear modeling, geographic information systems, machine learning/genetic matching, and nonparametric structural equation modeling to identify causal effects of community level characteristics. We will also discuss the challenges still present in the field including complex sampling designs, availability of neighborhood level data, under-specifying neighborhood models, causal modeling, and measurement error. We will conclude our roundtable by discussing the most fruitful direction, and the most appropriate role, for social work in the field of neighborhood effects research.

Understanding the effect neighborhoods have on vulnerable individuals and families is a great fit for this year's conference theme ‘emerging horizons for social work research'. The topic is well-studied across disciplines and findings need to be more fully integrated into social work research. This roundtable will provide social work with a venue to have the rich discussion and debate necessary to move neighborhood effects research forward in our field.

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