Living in an environment where one feels safe allows people to have more control over their day-to-day lives and provides the freedom and motivation to plan for the future. Children who grow up facing child maltreatment in the home or in a violent neighborhood can experience lasting negative effects on mental health, cognitive skills, behavioral health, and socioemotional development. When the social institutions designed to protect communities act in ways that undermine them, community members can be disillusioned and distrustful. For example, fear of an overly punitive police force, especially disproportionate policing of disadvantaged groups, can lead residents to feel like their lives are devalued, unstable, and at risk.

To see more information on the predictors related to safety that the Working Group considered, as well as references for the research described on this page, see the section “Boosting Upward Mobility: A Supporting Framework” in the report.


Exposure to Trauma

Experiencing trauma can have significant negative consequences that persist long after the trauma has ended. Early exposure to trauma undermines brain development, socioemotional development, ability to develop secure attachments, emotion regulation, sense of agency, and self-efficacy. Children who have been exposed to trauma, particularly multiple traumas, are at risk for developing emotional and behavioral problems, such as depression, anxiety, dissociation, post-traumatic stress disorder, low self-esteem, hopelessness, withdrawn behaviors, and impaired peer relationships. The effects of trauma on adults can range from subtle to destructive and can manifest in diminished cognitive ability as well as worsening physical and mental health. More broadly, “community trauma” affects social groups or neighborhoods long subjected to interpersonal violence, structural violence, and historical harms. Community and systems trauma, like individual trauma, affects cognitive decisionmaking that can lead to reduced civic engagement and weakened social networks and social cohesion; it can also adversely influence how individuals view themselves, their capabilities, and their social status.

Metric: Adverse Childhood Experiences scale

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) scale is a survey-based scale comprising 17 items that measure childhood exposure to trauma such as psychological, physical, or sexual abuse; neglect; mental illness; domestic violence; divorce; and having a parent in prison. Each question relates to an experience growing up during the first 18 years of life and solicits a “yes” or “no” response. More “yes” answers mean that the respondent has gone through more types of childhood trauma. To construct this metric, community leaders would need to collect data locally.

Validity: A significant body of research finds that that higher ACE scores, indicating more childhood trauma, correlate with several outcomes related to lower mobility. Higher ACE scores are associated with poor performance at work and financial problems as adults as well as higher rates of chronic disease, depression, and lower health-related quality of life as adults. The metric may be most useful as an indicator of a need for trauma-informed care at the community level.

Availability: This information is not available widely enough in existing data sources to provide coverage at the local level across many geographies.

Frequency: The frequency of how often data for the metric would be collected would depend upon local data collection efforts, but we recommend regular follow-up data collection at least every two years.

Geography: The level of geography that the metric would represent (e.g., county, city, or zip code) would depend on the sampling frame, stratification, and the number of people ultimately surveyed to obtain sufficient power for the survey.

Consistency: The degree of consistency in this metric across different places will vary with the extensiveness of the survey design and number of people surveyed in each place. Ideally, the metric would be consistent across some base level of geography (such as the city or county), but some places would likely have more extensive coverage of residents who have completed the ACE scale.

Subgroups: Like geography, the range of subgroups represented and the ability to compare subgroups (people of color and white people; married and single people; people with children and those without) would depend on the sampling frame, stratification, and the number of people surveyed.

Limitations: The key limitation is the need for local partners to collect representative data. Original data collection may also make benchmarking against other places challenging, depending on the scale and representativeness of data collection in other places. This metric may be sensitive to residential mobility because those reporting experiences of trauma in the past may have lived in a different jurisdiction at the time.

Read Evidence

Exposure to Crime

Exposure to crime, even for those who are not direct victims, is associated with elevated levels of stress, depression, and anxiety in both youth and adults and lower test scores for students. Adolescents exposed to gang violence displayed increased anxiety and post-traumatic stress. Teens who are exposed to higher levels of violent crime are more likely to engage in criminal activity themselves.

Metric: Rates of reported violent crime and property crime (per 100,000 people)

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program provides a standard, well-defined measure of crime. Reported crimes are captured for four index violent felonies (murder or nonnegligent manslaughter, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) and four index property felonies (burglary, larceny-theft, motor vehicle theft, and arson).

Validity: The UCR Program statistics are the most widely used way to measure and compare reported crime across jurisdictions. The FBI provides definitions for each of the criminal offenses in the index, and most police departments in the United States report the data on those offenses to the FBI through a standardized reporting system. The purpose of the FBI’s UCR Program is to provide a common language transcending the varying local and state laws. Although there are potential issues with how different departments might classify offenses, the UCR Program is considered the most standardized source.

Availability: The data are available for most jurisdictions across the United States. If a jurisdiction is not included in the UCR Program data, local officials may be able to obtain the relevant and comparable data directly from their law enforcement agencies.

Frequency: Data are reported annually.

Geography: The UCR Program data are available at the agency level and city level and can be aggregated to the county level, dependent on availably of relevant agency data.

Consistency: The FBI advises caution when using UCR Program data to rank or compare locales because many factors could cause the nature and type of crime to vary by place. Data may be accumulated and compiled differently at the local level.

Subgroups: The data include demographic information (age, race, and gender) for those arrested for all crimes in the index and for the victims and offenders of homicides only (not for the other crimes in the index).

Limitations: Reporting is not mandatory, and although most jurisdictions provide data, UCR does not capture the universe of reported index crimes across the United States. UCR data measure crime reported to the police, so unreported crime is not captured. An FBI analysis estimates that up to half of violent crime goes unreported to the local police, and research finds that some neighborhoods are less likely to report violent crime, especially where trust of police is low. As a place-based metric, reported crime is affected by mobility in and out of the jurisdiction. Crime rates are based on the number of incidents per 100,000 residents. If the number of residents increases, the crime rate could go down without any change in the number of reported incidents. Also, crime tends to be concentrated in certain areas. Similarly, if new residents are moving to places where crime rates are already low, the populations and areas experiencing the most crime may also not see any change even if citywide rates decrease. Relatedly, the UCR Program does not provide data on crime at the neighborhood level, so it cannot track changes in crime or compare different places within a jurisdiction.

Read Evidence

Overly Punitive Policing

Overly punitive policing can undermine a sense of control and belonging in a community, and a criminal conviction can limit future economic opportunities. Increased police visibility increases the fear of crime and decreases confidence that the police can control crime. Concentrated police presence, surveillance, and extensive enforcement of minor violations of the law are common in neighborhoods with higher levels of reported crime, and these in turn result in greater exposure to police contact and arrest for people living in those neighborhoods and a greater resultant possibility of their incarceration. These factors have also been shown to decrease engagement with surveilling institutions (e.g., schools and hospitals) and to lower civic engagement. This type of contact has immediate negative effects for youth. Juvenile arrests and police stops of juveniles are risk factors for criminal behavior and for further and deeper involvement in the justice system. Deeper involvement in the justice system in turn leads to increasingly negative effects on socioeconomic status and is a mechanism for downward mobility. At the community level, incarceration rates are associated with lower income mobility. This is in part because of intergenerational effects: parental incarceration adversely affects the transition to adulthood in several ways. Finally, many residents in heavily policed neighborhoods have low levels of trust in the police, believe that race and ethnicity affect the police’s treatment of people, and do not believe police are responsive to the concerns and most pressing issues facing their communities.

Metric: Rate of juvenile justice arrests

The FBI’s UCR Program provides statistics on the number of arrests of people under age 18. Because individuals can be arrested several times, the data reports the number of arrests rather than the number of individuals arrested. The metric is for arrests of juveniles ages 10 to 17 for any crime, but the data can be broken down by offense type. Arrest rates can be calculated using population data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Validity: Although arrest behavior of the total population may be confounded by many factors, arrests among juvenile offenders can be more closely tied to overly punitive policing behavior. Research finds that after controlling for suspect race, gender, seriousness of offense, and amount of evidence, juveniles are more likely to be arrested than adult suspects. Research also finds large and disruptive impacts on adult outcomes: juvenile detention is associated with lower educational attainment, lower rates of employment, and higher rates of criminal offending and incarceration as an adult.

Availability: Arrest data are available in jurisdictions that report to the UCR Program and are available through the FBI’s Crime Data Explorer tool. The data are available for most jurisdictions across the United States (see the exposure to crime metric for more detail).

Frequency: Juvenile arrest data are available annually through the FBI Crime Data Explorer. Arrest data before 2014 can be found on the Bureau of Justice Statistics Arrest Data tool.

Geography: The UCR data are available at the agency level and city level and can be aggregated to the county level, dependent on availability of relevant agency data.

Consistency: The FBI advises caution when using UCR data to rank or compare locales because many factors can cause the nature and type of crime to vary by place. The FBI consistently defines juveniles as under age 18 regardless of a state’s definition. Data may be accumulated and compiled differently at the local level.

Subgroups: This metric necessarily measures people within a particular age group but also provides data on age subgroups (e.g., 10–12, 13–15, and 16–17) as well as by race or ethnicity and gender.

Limitations: Reporting to the UCR Program is not mandatory, and although most jurisdictions do so, the program does not capture the universe of reported index crimes across the United States. These data also do not capture any punitive interactions with school resource officers that do not get elevated to the level of arrest (such as being temporarily detained or being removed or suspended from school). As a place-based metric, reported crime is affected by mobility in and out of the jurisdiction, and because the metric is a rate, large increases or declines in the number of juveniles in an area could also affect it.

Read Evidence