A Jan. 22 report by the Heller School for Social Policy and Management found that neighborhoods affect children’s health and development, including their education, expectations for the future and quality of experiences. The study, titled “The Geography of Child Opportunity: Why Neighborhoods Matter for Equity," was conducted by Heller’s Institute for Child, Youth and Family Policy. The study quantifies opportunity levels for children across the United States and examines how a child’s neighborhood affects his or her future. The report was authored by the institute's and project's director Dolores Acevedo-Garcia, Research Director Clemens Noelke and Senior Research Analyst Nancy McArdle.

The Child Opportunity Index 2.0, which is a crucial part of the report, assigns an opportunity score to neighborhoods based on three domains: education, health and environmental, and social and economic, according to the report. The research team released the first version of the COI in 2014, Acevedo-Garcia told the Justice in a Jan. 27 interview. 

According to the report, the COI 2.0 “focuses on child opportunity in the 100 largest metropolitan areas, which comprise 47,000 neighborhoods where 67% of children live.” It measures child opportunity based on 29 “common conditions,” such as graduation rates, air pollution and homeownership.

The data, as well as case studies and other supplemental material, can be found at diversitydatakids.org. By clicking “Child Opportunity Index” and then “Explore metro maps,” users can find an interactive map that includes opportunity levels of all the neighborhoods studied as well as breakdowns of each neighborhood’s opportunity level based on race. According to the website map, Brandeis is located in a moderate-opportunity neighborhood. Of the 866 children that live in the neighborhood, 63.97% are white, 14.43% are Black, 13.40% are Hispanic and 8.20% are Asian/Pacific Islander.

“Our goal has always been to provide a complete picture of what is going on with the U.S. population,” Acevedo-Garcia said. She explained that while it is possible to create a more complex index, she was interested in creating one that was applicable to the greatest possible number of neighborhoods. Creating the COI 2.0 involved balancing comprehensive measures and wide coverage, she said.

Before she was thinking about data and indices, Acevedo-Garcia was encountering and studying inequities in the United States. Acevedo-Garcia said she came to the United States from Mexico to attend graduate school at Princeton University. Although she at first thought the Civil Rights Movement had addressed many of the United States’ racial issues, she began to “[observe] a huge level of segregation everywhere,” recalling that the students and faculty at Princeton were primarily white, while the dining staff was primarily Black.

Acevedo-Garcia’s interest in demography eventually led her to work on this project and look for a way to measure opportunity. “Why have we created a situation in which … the good neighborhoods tend to be inhabited … disproportionately by white children and the lower-opportunity neighborhoods are primarily for Black and Hispanic kids?” she said.

Acevedo-Garcia emphasized that she wants students to know they can use the data as a resource, such as for research or action. “I think a lot of students are also very much like social activists, so if they are working with a specific community and want to show the data to a community or things like that,” she said.

Although Acevedo-Garcia is passionate about the prospect of Brandeis students taking advantage of the report as a resource, she explained that the majority of engagement the report receives is from outside of the Brandeis community. For example, she said, the Chicago Department of Public Health reached out to them shortly after they released the 2014 COI. The department was able to use the data in their work to improve public health to target neighborhoods that had higher need. Using the index, the department found that rates of lead poisoning and teenage pregnancy were higher in low-opportunity neighborhoods. 

Similarly, Acevedo-Garcia said, when their 2014 report revealed that Albany, New York had the highest concentration of Black children in very low-opportunity neighborhoods, the city began working on renovating parks and playgrounds in those neighborhoods. Acevedo-Garcia explained that the availability of green space was a factor in the COI, and that this was just one example of the data’s ability to move people to action and show them concrete actions they could take to improve low-opportunity neighborhoods. 

Acevedo-Garcia said that moving forward with the project, their goal is to update the index regularly to provide the most up-to-date information possible. She added that much of her work has shifted to focusing on users and impact, and she hopes to figure out what brings people to use the data to make change in their communities and what types of actions lead to positive change for children.