include surveys and systematic social observation. The Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods (PHDCN)6 illustrates both approaches. To gather information on its sample of children in a randomly chosen set of Chicago’s neighborhoods, the project conducted a separate survey of a representative sample of adults residing in those neighborhoods. The questionnaire for this second survey included questions on social interactions among neighbors. Mounting an independent survey to gather these kinds of neighborhood level data on social organization would be expensive, although a parsimonious set of observations might be added to existing surveys (such as the NHIS) that require home visits. For example, similar to an approach to measurements of the built environment, a measure described as systematic social observation (Reiss, 1971; Sampson and Raudenbush, 1999) relies on trained observers to systematically record such indicators of social organization as broken windows, vandalism, and evidence of drug use in a well-defined geographic area. Data can be gathered either with direct recording or by systematically coding videotapes taken of the neighborhood areas (Raudenbush and Sampson, 1999). Systematic social observation methods are less expensive than surveys, but they gather different kinds of data about social organization.

Standardized measures of neighborhood institutions and facilities (e.g., parks, the quality of local schools, churches, bus or train service, youth activity centers) are not readily available from any centralized source. Some of these characteristics can be obtained from surveys of the children or parents who are reporting on health outcomes. However, such reports can often identify what families use, but not what is actually present in their neighborhoods. A study by Morland, Wing, Diex Rouz, and Poole (2002) demonstrated that supermarkets are nearly nonexistent in the poorest fifth of the neighborhoods studied.

Investigators have generally considered both childhood victimization (direct exposure) and witnessed violence (indirect exposure) when studying the prevalence and effect of community violence in relation to children’s health (Martinez and Richters, 1993; Smith and Martin, 1995). Although most investigators define victimization in a consistent manner (e.g., intentional acts initiated by another person to cause harm), there is much more variability in the definition of witnessed violence. Some authors have referred specifically to eyewitnessed violence, while others have included hearing violent events (e.g., gun shots and screams), and others have included witnessing lesser crimes (e.g., property damage and the viewing of violence on television and in the media). With increasing interest and attention paid to a broader conceptualization of children’s exposure to violence (including victimization and witnessed violence) investigators are tending to view children’s exposure to violence in terms of levels, rather than direct or indirect exposures (Buka et al., 2001).



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement