There are many resources that can help to support families with young children. Some resources, such as health insurance, sufficient nutrition, and books and toys, can support healthy early childhood development directly. Other resources, such as a safe home, help to support a family’s well-being, and reduce a child’s exposure to chaos and toxic stress. There is also a third category of resources that are not tied to a family’s income.
These include the set of relationships and informal resources that a family can draw upon in times of need. For some families, these informal relationships provide a source of support. The help of extended family, neighbors, and friends can offer a safety net and provide an important resource to families. Collectively, these informal relationships are considered a large component of a family’s level of “social capital.”
The influence of having an informal network of interpersonal resources has been well documented on a range of outcomes for individuals and for communities. When neighbors keep a watch out for each other and keep a protective eye on each other’s homes and property, for example, not only do residents feel safer, but by objective measures, crime actually is lower in those neighborhoods.
If these informal resources are important for family well-being, is it possible that they also support early childhood development? In turn, do they help to support school readiness?
Our findings are striking: when parents feel like their neighbors are positive role models, their children reach kindergarten “more ready” to take on the task of early reading.
These findings help to strengthen our understanding of the ways that neighborhood characteristics can matter for early childhood well-being. As the old saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child, and this is particularly true for families trying to juggle the many demands of modern life. Having a neighbor or friend to count on for help can make a tremendous difference for families, including better outcomes for their children.
Contributing Authors: Marie Sell, Doug Imig, Shahin Samiei
A Partnership between The Urban Child Institute and Shelby County Schools