In early 2000 the Annie E Casey Foundation launched Making Connections, an initiative in ten poor urban communities designed to improve outcomes for disadvantaged children and their families. As part of an evaluation of this important effort researchers at NORC, the Urban Institute, Case Western University, Chapin Hall Center for Children and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in collaboration with scholars at the Annie E Casey Foundation, designed a survey which NORC implemented. The survey examines mobility, social capital and networks, neighborhood processes, resident perceptions and participation, economic hardship, the availability and utilization of services, and child and adolescent well-being. These data have been used by community development practitioners and neighborhood groups in the field who work to improve neighborhood conditions, in addition to state and federal officials with an interest in understanding and developing best practices for community policy and by a wide range of scholars focused on issues related to poverty and family well-being.
The survey was conducted in Denver, Des Moines, Indianapolis, San Antonio, Seattle (White Center), Hartford, Milwaukee, Oakland, Providence, and Louisville. The baseline survey was fielded in each of the ten Making Connections neighborhoods, and in each county that contained the Making Connections neighborhood. The Wave 2 and Wave 3 survey was fielded in the neighborhoods only. Baseline data were gathered between 2002 and 2004. Wave 2 was completed between 2005 and 2007 in the same ten sites. The Wave 3 cycle, scheduled between 2008 and 2011, is conducted in only seven of the ten sites.
The county-wide telephone survey was conducted for nearly 700 households in each county at baseline in order to understand the context relative to the neighborhoods that were chosen. Each wave of the neighborhood survey consists of at least 800 completed interviews and includes families with and without children. The instrument was translated into the languages spoken by residents that comprise at least 10% of the population in a particular neighborhood; in addition to English, the survey was conducted in Spanish, Vietnamese, Cantonese, and Hmong.
The neighborhood survey was designed so that a longitudinal sample was maintained over the three waves, and a representative point-in-time sample was also collected. Families with children that left the neighborhoods were followed between waves in order to understand who moved and why.
In keeping with the mission of the Annie E Casey Foundation to engage local residents and organizations in this evaluation effort, NORC worked with local community groups throughout the study. NORC solicited topics of special interest from and worked collaboratively with local stakeholders to develop survey questions that, when used in combination with the standard core set of measures shared by all sites, provided data that informed and shaped the initiative over time. NORC also worked closely with local partners before and during each survey implementation on a variety of tasks which included community outreach, interviewer recruitment, community authority notification and survey sampling.
While the data were not explicitly collected for academic purposes, and the survey sites are not nationally representative, the diversity of the ten sites means they offer good examples of the wide range of challenges being faced by local leaders and other policymakers as they try to make headway in improving today’s economically disadvantaged communities. The stereotypical declining neighborhoods of the survey’s older industrial cities (e.g., Louisville, Milwaukee, Indianapolis) remain among the most critical, but they can no longer be said to fully represent America’s “urban problem.” There are other poor neighborhoods in the East and Midwest that have similar challenges but where, in addition, expanding immigrant populations are shifting the traditional dynamic (e.g., Des Moines, Hartford, Providence). And yet other troubled neighborhoods in other regions operate differently, ranging from fairly stable Hispanic communities with severe persistent poverty (e.g., San Antonio) to rapidly growing, racially diverse neighborhoods where extraordinary housing affordability pressures are overlaid on the more traditional barriers to family stability (e.g., Denver, Oakland, Seattle).
In addition to the topics and characteristics of the survey listed above, some features make these data different from many other surveys of this size:
- During the initial neighborhood waves, respondents were asked to draw their neighborhood maps.
- While only one child was the topic of the first survey, data were collected about all children in the household during the second wave and third wave, which is important for understanding the characteristics of the whole family.
- Data were collected about the schools children attended.
- Includes school readiness items for each young child.
- Youth transition into adulthood (aging out) outcomes were collected.