Testing place-based, two-generation strategies to help vulnerable parents and children

Our Issues

Where children grow up has a major influence on their life chances. Children in high-poverty neighborhoods must often contend with violence, racial and economic segregation, and inadequate schools, police, sanitation, and grocery stores. These children are at a greater risk of having poor physical and mental health, dropping out of school, getting involved in gangs, becoming teen parents, and being unemployed as adults. And many of the families living in the most distressed neighborhood settings struggle with multiple, serious challenges—addiction, trauma, mental health problems, and disabilities—that require much more intensive and sustained supports than mainstream poverty programs provide.

The Neighborhoods and Youth Development initiative aims to better understand the neighborhood environments that lead to these negative outcomes, use that information to develop and test targeted interventions, inform policy initiatives—such as Promise Neighborhoods—that are designed to help youth, and explore how place affects children’s development, health, and behavior.

Our Approach

Drawing from the breadth and depth of expertise across the Urban Institute, we take a comprehensive, holistic approach to families and neighborhoods. Coordinating services and programs for youth and for adults is key to addressing the needs of the entire family. We also look at neighborhoods as a whole—including schools, child care options, neighborhood businesses, and health care providers—to identify community-wide strategies to support vulnerable families.

Because place-based interventions are tailored to each community, are continually being improved, and can have spillover effects on people outside the neighborhood, randomized controlled trials—the gold standard for evaluation—are not the best fit for assessing their effectiveness. We are developing more nuanced tools for assessing the impacts of these interventions and for helping local practitioners apply strategies for continuous learning and improvement. 

Our Impact

We recently conducted a needs assessment for the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative (DCPNI). Based on our findings, DCPNI chose a dual-generation approach for its service model. We are continuing to work as DCPNI’s data analysis and local evaluation partner to inform their organizational and program decisions as they refine their model.

Our long history studying public housing programs has led to significant changes in policy and practice at both federal and local levels. For example, our decade-long study of families relocated by the HOPE VI program (which demolished some of the nation’s most distressed public housing developments) contributed to requirements for more intensive support services in HUD’s new Choice Neighborhoods program. More recently, we found that adults in our Chicago Family Case Management demonstration saw improvements in mental and physical health and employment outcomes, but youth were worse off.

Based on those lessons, we developed the Housing Opportunity and Services Together (HOST) demonstration, which has helped the public housing authorities in Chicago, Portland, and Washington, DC, better integrate youth and adult services rather than just providing support to heads of households. We’re also building a HOST network so that housing agencies in New York, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and other communities across the United States can integrate the HOST framework into their resident service models.