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16. Neighborhood Safety

Where a child grows up has important implications for the child’s health, growth, and development. Economic and social features of neighborhoods—like perceived safety—have been linked with mortality, general health status, birth outcomes, chronic conditions, health behaviors, mental health, injuries, violence and other health indicators. For example, a child raised in an unsafe neighborhood may not feel safe exercising or participating in physical activities. As a result, the child is at higher risk for developing obesity and obesity-related conditions like diabetes. The ongoing stress of living in an unsafe neighborhood can also exert a toll on the mental health and well-being of children and their families.

What Can the Data Tell Us?

Data on the relative safety of neighborhoods indicates significant racial, ethnic and economic disparities (Table 26). Parents of black,non-Hispanic and Hispanic children are nearly four times more likely than parents of white, non-Hispanic children to report their children live in unsafe neighborhoods. Household income and neighborhood safety are also related. As household income increases, the probability of parents reporting living in unsafe neighborhoods decreases. Families with household incomes below 100 percent of the poverty level are over five times more likely to report living in unsafe neighborhoods as families with household incomes over 400 percent of poverty. Improving neighborhood safety through economic development, community investment and public-safety programs can significantly improve children’s health, growth, and development. The data below identify disparities in neighborhood safety across several subgroups and can be used to identify at-risk populations for targeted interventions, resource allocation and policy development. Many required responses involve community level actions (e.g. population health strategies) that go beyond serving individual families.

Table 26. Percentage of children whose parents report their neighborhood or community is never safe/ sometimes safe for children, , U.S. and states, 2011-2012