Methods: This study used data derived from two sources: a prospective longitudinal study of prenatal cocaine/polydrug exposure; and the 2010 U.S. Census. The study sample included 350 (190 girls) 15-year-old adolescents recruited at birth. Adolescent addresses at age 15 were linked to census tract data. Neighborhood disadvantage (i.e., objective neighborhood characteristics) was assessed by ten neighborhood characteristics (e.g., the percentage of households below the poverty line) from the census. Perceived environmental support was measured by the Developmental Assets Profile (DAP). Perceived neighborhood disorder was assessed by the Urban Hassles Index (UHI). Externalizing behavior was measured by the Youth Self-Report (YSR). Covariates include gender, prenatal cocaine exposure, child maltreatment, family conflict, and always in birth parent's care. Confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) and structural equation modeling (SEM) were conducted using Mplus 8.3. Full information maximum likelihood estimation was used to handle missing data.
Results: Both the measurement model (x2 (33) = 43.42, p = .11, CFI = .99, TLI = .98, RMSEA = .03 [90% CI = .000 – .052]; SRMR = .04) and the final structural equation model (x2 (77) = 98.48, p = .05, CFI = .97, TLI = .96, RMSEA = .03 [90% CI = .000 – .047]; SRMR = .05) had a good model fit. Neighborhood disadvantage was not directly associated with externalizing behavior (β = -.05, p = .469). The association between neighborhood disadvantage and externalizing behavior was mediated by both perceived environmental support and perceived neighborhood disorder. Greater neighborhood disadvantage was associated with lower levels of perceived environmental support (β = -.27, p < .001), which led to greater perceived neighborhood disorder (β = -.42, p < .001) and then greater externalizing behavior (β = .33, p = .002). Additionally, lower levels of perceived environmental support was directly associated with greater externalizing behavior (β = -.25, p = .024).
Conclusions and Implications: Objective neighborhood characteristics were not directly associated with adolescent externalizing behavior in the presence of subjective perceptions of environmental support and neighborhood disorder. Both perceived support and disorder mediated the relationship between objective neighborhood characteristics and externalizing behavior. The findings from this study suggest that community practice needs to focus on subjective perceptions of neighborhood support and disorder when developing intervention programs on externalizing behavior among at-risk adolescents.