The Complex and Lasting Impact of Community Violence

For over a decade The Urban Institute has tracked the long term impacts for families relocated by the Chicago Housing Authority to make way for their removal of public housing complexes throughout the city. The relocated residents report better housing and neighborhood quality since the move.  For youth however, the improved living environment does not appear to have had a transformative effect on their lives.

According to the brief, Chronic Violence: Beyond the Developments, follow-up data from 2011 indicate that children in the new housing (voucher-enabled private rentals or refurbished public housing) were not attending higher quality schools and were still living in neighborhoods with nearly half of the residents below the poverty line. Parental reports of negative behavior and delinquent activity were similar to the baseline data of youth in the public housing complexes.  In addition, academic performance remained a concern, with approximately 33 percent of the teenagers not in the appropriate grade for their age and about 66 percent unengaged in school or work activities.

Authors Chantal Hailey and Megan Gallagher discuss the presence and patterns of neighborhood violence as a continuing factor risk factor in the lives of these families, even after relocation, specifically the impact it has upon youth in the form of continued exposure to trauma, a nomadic lifestyle, and avoidance or isolation.  The researchers at The Urban Institute recommend intensive case management services for the relocated families in Chicago, with the hope that such intervention would improve future outcomes.

The impact of neighborhood violence on youth can be devastating, both in perceived and actual threats of physical harm, the psychological toll of anxiety, and the impact of traumatic events on a child’s development. It should be noted that research identified similar problems for youth in “rough” neighborhoods from a sample that included families above the poverty line.  Addressing the long-lasting impacts of community violence in a meaningful manner is challenging as both the context of the violence witnessed and gender differences in coping techniques may lessen responsiveness to standardized interventions “proven” in another city.  The mixed perception of the outside “experts” (school officials, teachers, social workers, counselors, police, etc.) by community members may also serve as a obstacle in forming a partnership to reduce youth and adult violence.  There is not a single policy nor intervention that will be able to  neutralize or remove every risk factor, but based on the results of various initiatives across the country,  a combination of behavioral interventions and police strategies may prove effective going forward.