Background Influence

The importance of a socially supportive neighborhood

Parent construct: Social cohesion

Money isn’t everything. Even in poor neighborhoods, people can make a big difference in children’s lives if they support each other’s efforts to make the neighborhood a good place to live. Research shows that neighborhoods where people know and trust each other have less crime and juvenile delinquency.1 In neighborhoods where people get to know each other and establish mutual respect and trust, people can agree on norms for behavior in the neighborhood, which encourages people to take action when young people violate those norms.1,2 This form of collective action to set limits and guide youth behavior is critical to preventing crime and other problem behavior.1

It is easier for neighbors to cooperate in monitoring and guiding youth when there are good common spaces for young people to play and adults to be present.1 Having recreational facilities, family support centers, libraries, and other places where people can gather in supportive ways is also important for making sure that young people are guided in positive directions.3

Socially support can be built through small actions:

  • Neighbors can organize simple organized and cooperative games on the playground or at after-school settings.4 Such social support reduces aggression among children and increases academic achievement.5,6

  • Churches or other groups can organize simple incentives from donations for recovering drug addicts or re-entering prisoners.7 These simple reinforcers are among the most powerful ways of reducing relapse from chronic substance abuse involving heroin, methamphetamine, or cocaine,8,9 and non-professionals can easily implement them.

  • Providing meaningful and engaging ways for children and youth to better the neighborhood,10,11 including significant positive role in social causes or in painting and fixing up can have measurable impact on adults’ perception of crime.12


  1. Sampson, R.J., Raudenbush, S.W., & Earls, F. (1997). Neighborhoods and violent crime: A multilevel study of collective efficacy. Science, 277(5328), 918-924.  

  2. Veysey, B.M., & Messner, S.F. (1999). Further testing of social disorganization theory: An elaboration of Sampson and Groves's 'Community structure and crime.' Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, 36(2), 156-174.  

  3. Sampson, T.J., Morenoff, J.D., & Gannon-Rowley, T. (2002). Assessing "neighborhood effects": Social processes and new directions in research. Annual Review of Sociology, 28, 443-478.  

  4. Horelli L. Creating child-friendly environments: Case studies on children's participation in three European countries. Childhood: A Global Journal of Child Research 1998;5(2):225-39.  

  5. Murphy HA, Hutchison JM, Bailey JS. Behavioral school psychology goes outdoors: The effect of organized games on playground aggression. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis 1983;16(1):29.  

  6. Jarrett OS, Maxwell DM, Dickerson C, Hoge P, Davies G, Yetley A. Impact of recess on classroom behavior: Group effects and individual differences. 1998;92(2):121-26.  

  7. Amass L, Kamien J. A Tale of Two Cities: Financing Two Voucher Programs for Substance Abusers Through Community Donations. Experimental and Clinical Psychopharmacology 2004;12(2):147-55.  

  8. Barry D, Sullivan B, Petry NM. Comparable efficacy of contingency management for cocaine dependence among African American, Hispanic, and White methadone maintenance clients. Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 2009;23(1):168-74.  

  9. Roll JM, Petry NM, Stitzer ML, Brecht ML, Peirce JM, McCann MJ, et al. Contingency management for the treatment of methamphetamine use disorders. American Journal of Psychiatry 2006;163(11):1993-9.  

  10. Hart D, Donnelly TM, Youniss J, Atkins R. High school community service as a predictor of adult voting and volunteering. American Educational Research Journal 2007;44(1):197-219.  

  11. Planty M, Bozick R, Regnier M. Helping Because You Have To or Helping Because You Want To?: Sustaining Participation in Service Work From Adolescence Through Young Adulthood. Youth & Society 2006;38(2):177-202.  

  12. Palmer EJ, Hollin CR, Caulfield LS. Surveying Fear: Crime, Buses and New Paint. Crime Prevention and Community Safety 2005;7(4):47-58.