Neighbourhood perceptions influence children’s development

Neighbourhood perceptions influence children’s development

Media release — 6 May 2010

Residents’ perceptions of their neighbourhood, including facilities, safety, cleanliness and a sense of belonging, influenced their children’s emotional and behavioural development, a new study by the Australian Institute of Family Studies has found.

The study, which examined data collected from nearly 5,000 children aged four to five years old living in 330 postcodes across Australia, confirmed higher levels of hyperactivity, emotional and peer problems among children from disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

Institute Director Professor Alan Hayes said the findings demonstrate the extent to which parents’ perceptions of their neighbourhood can influence the wellbeing of their young children.

“Children living in areas with high levels of disadvantage have significantly worse levels of concentration, are likely to feel sad, worried or fearful, and have significantly more problems with their peers than children living in more affluent neighbourhoods,” he said.

“However, where parents felt a sense of belonging, trusted their neighbours and knew where to find local services, the impact on children of living in a low socio-economic area was reduced.”

Lead author and Institute Senior Research Fellow Dr Ben Edwards said the key findings of the study included:

  • Children living in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods had significantly worse hyperactivity, emotional and peer problems.
  • The largest difference between children from disadvantaged and affluent neighbourhoods was with peer problems, such as not having friends, being picked on or playing alone, or preferring adult company.
  • Emotional symptoms, such as the child’s tendency to display sadness, fear or worry, were much greater for children living in the most disadvantaged areas compared to the most advantaged areas.
  • Differences in socio-economic status of neighbourhoods had less impact on a child’s hyperactivity, although the differences in hyperactivity of children living in disadvantaged areas was still worse than for children from the most advantaged areas.

“This study shows initiatives that build social cohesion in a community can play a role in closing the gap between children living in advantaged and disadvantaged postcodes,” Dr Edwards said.

“However, to address geographic disadvantage, there also needs to be a comprehensive strategy to address services, employment and enhance parenting skills for people living in disadvantaged areas.”

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