Abstract: Early Childhood Development: The Role of Neighborhood (Society for Social Work and Research 23rd Annual Conference - Ending Gender Based, Family and Community Violence)

190P Early Childhood Development: The Role of Neighborhood

Friday, January 18, 2019
Continental Parlors 1-3, Ballroom Level (Hilton San Francisco)
* noted as presenting author
Judith Perrigo, MSW, PhD Student, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Michael Hurlburt, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA
Background: Beyond family level predictors, a growing body of research suggests that the local environmental context also matters for early child development. Some research suggests that neighborhoods with similar demographic and socioeconomic profiles, but very different rates of child abuse and neglect (CAN), may differ in their social environmental qualities (e.g., collective efficacy, exposure to violence and criminal activity) that could affect family life and diverse dimensions of early child development. The present study utilized universal early childhood development data from public schools in one large Southern California county to examine a broad spectrum of developmental domains in demographically matched neighborhoods with very different rates of CAN referrals. Data were gathered for children just at the end of their “first-five” years, as they transitioned into kindergarten. 

Methods: Data were drawn from the Early Development Index (EDI), a broad spectrum developmental index completed by kindergarten teachers in public schools. The EDI assesses the domains of physical health and well-being, emotional maturity, communication skills and general knowledge, social competence, and language and cognitive skills. More than 34,000 kindergarteners in the county, from 583 census tracts, were included in analyses. Linear regression was used to compare developmental differences among children who resided in demographically matched neighborhoods with very different CAN referral rates (N=22 high referral neighborhoods and N=20 low referral neighborhoods). Spatial regression analysis of all census tracts (n=583) was also performed.

Results:  Demographic characteristics of children from matched neighborhoods were similar to one another. Gender distribution was 48% girls and 51% boys. Most kindergarteners were Hispanic (60%) and many were English language learners (53%). Matched neighborhoods were also similar with respect to neighborhood characteristics such as 3-year residential turnover (36%), proportion of single-parent families (31%), average adults with at least a bachelor’s degree (24%), and poverty levels (20%). With respect to the primary focal comparison of interest, linear regression models revealed a consistent association between census tract rates of CAN referrals and developmental readiness in all domains, with EDI levels lower in census tracts having higher rates of CAN referrals.  However, developmental outcomes only differed in one domain as a function of neighborhood CAN referral rates in either matched neighborhood comparisons or spatial regression models after controlling for population-level variables. The only domain that differed was language and cognitive skills (b = -0.02; SE = 0.007; p < 0.05).

Implications: Our results suggest indicators of early child development are associated with a number of variables. CAN referral rates at the census tract level are predictably associated with child developmental outcomes, with poorer outcomes in tracts with higher rates of referrals.  Contrary to our predictions, tract level CAN referral rates were not always associated with developmental outcomes at Kindergarten entry, above and beyond characteristics of the local population. Our results suggest that some prevention strategies, focused specifically on the concept of developing collective efficacy in local populations, are likely not to be as effective as other population-level prevention strategies that focus on improvements in parent-child relationships and reductions in child maltreatment.