The Society for Social Work and Research

2013 Annual Conference

January 16-20, 2013 I Sheraton San Diego Hotel and Marina I San Diego, CA

Can Neighborhood Safety and Positive Parental Relationships Outweigh Negative School Experiences for Adolescents in Urban Environments Who Have Future Aspirations?

Sunday, January 20, 2013: 9:15 AM
Nautilus 1 (Sheraton San Diego Hotel & Marina)
* noted as presenting author
Henrika McCoy, PhD, Assistant Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Elizabeth A. Bowen, AM, LCSW, Doctoral Student, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL
Background and Purpose: Risk and protective factor frameworks have been widely used in adolescent development research. For youth living in urban areas, protective factors identified through previous research include the development of a future-oriented perspective, the articulation of future goals, and a strong sense of hope or confidence in one’s ability to achieve long-term goals. Furthermore, research grounded in social-ecological theory has identified influences at individual, family, school, and neighborhood levels that shape adolescent self-efficacy and future aspirations. The study hypothesizes that adolescents in urban environments will maintain their future aspirations despite negative school experiences if exposed to a positive neighborhood environment and positive relationships with parents.

Methods:  This study uses longitudinal data from the second wave of the Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN) collected between 1997 and 2000 from over 6,000 youth selected through stratified probability sampling. In this study, the focus is on adolescents. Therefore, only the age 15 cohort (n=489) met the age criteria and is included. Fifty-three percent are male and 47% are female. Thirty percent identified as Black, 14% as White, 46% as Hispanic, and 10% identified as other. Structural Equation Modeling (SEM) was used to test the fit of the conceptual model. Each construct was measured by three to five items (answered on a Likert scale of 1 to 4) from a 23-item self-efficacy survey developed for PHDCN titled “Things I Can Do If I Try.” Paths were drawn from the neighborhood and parental relationship constructs to the adolescent future aspirations construct, and from the adolescent future aspirations construct to the school self-efficacy construct. The model was tested with LISREL using Diagonal Weighted Least Squares estimation procedures.

Results: This was a good-fitting SEM model (χ2= 171.48, df = 73, p = 0.0; GFI = .98, NFI = .98, CFI = .99, RMSEA = .05). The results confirmed the hypothesis: if adolescents feel safe in their neighborhoods and have positive relationships with their parents, negative experiences in school are outweighed and they can maintain their future aspirations.

Conclusions and Implications: School success is often identified as a significant predictor of future success, particularly for youth living in urban environments where multiple paths for success are limited. Therefore, it is likely that youth who do not experience school success might not be expected to do well in the future. However, the relationship between adolescents, their neighborhoods, parental relationships, and school experiences is likely dynamic. The results from this study indicate that despite negative experiences at school, adolescents may retain their future aspirations if they feel safe in their neighborhood environments and positive parental relationships. Those positive experiences could serve as potential leverage for working with youth to overcome obstacles that may be present at school and ultimately obtain future success. Therefore, social work practitioners should acknowledge the potential impact that youth feeling safe in their neighborhoods and having positive relationships with their parents can have on their future success.