Leveraging Integrated Data Systems to Examine the Effect of Housing and Neighborhood Conditions on Kindergarten Readiness
In many big cities, substantial numbers of children enter kindergarten already well behind in their cognitive and social development, presenting a major challenge for public education systems. While it is generally acknowledged that the environment in which children spend their early years is crucial, little is known specifically about how housing conditions in children’s own homes and the immediately surrounding areas factor into their school readiness. Drawing on two Integrated Data Systems (IDSs), this longitudinal, population-based study examines the influence of housing and neighborhood conditions since birth on school readiness of all children entering kindergarten over a four-year period in a big city school system. Using marginal structural models that properly account for dynamic housing and neighborhood selection, we find that children exposed to problematic housing and disadvantaged neighborhoods have lower kindergarten readiness scores after accounting for other factors. The negative effects of housing problems on kindergarten readiness are partially mediated by child maltreatment incidences, residential instability, and elevated blood lead levels. Communities are advised to pay more attention to distressed housing as a cause of disparities in early child development and school readiness. IDSs that incorporate detailed housing and property information, especially for the youngest children, can be used to target areas where there is elevated risk and coordinate local efforts to prevent the adverse effects of distressed housing stock on early child development.