Summary: Community Connectedness

Spotlight on Key Indicators: Community Connectedness

Learn More About Community Connectedness

Community Connectedness
Family Income and Poverty
Children's Emotional Health
Food Security
High School Graduation
Disconnected Youth
Juvenile Arrests
School Connectedness
School Safety
Gang Involvement
School Attendance and Discipline
Youth Alcohol, Tobacco, and Other Drug Use
Youth Suicide and Self-Inflicted Injury
Why This Topic Is Important
Like home and school environments, communities can play a critical role in promoting the healthy development of children and youth. Research has shown that the following key factors are linked to positive youth behavior, success in school, and avoidance of high-risk behavior such as substance use; all of these factors can be cultivated in community environments (1, 2):
  • Caring relationships with adults: Supportive connections to others who model and encourage healthy development and well being
  • High expectations by adults: Consistent communication of direct and indirect messages that youth can and will succeed
  • Opportunities for participation and contribution: Involvement of youth in relevant, engaging, and interesting activities with opportunities to contribute

Caring relationships with adults in the community that convey high expectations and encourage youth participation in meaningful activities can increase chances that youth flourish in school, work, and life (1, 2). Research indicates that children with at least one caring adult in their lives (e.g., a relative, family friend, neighbor, after-school program worker, coach, etc.) are more likely to handle challenges well, show interest in learning, volunteer in the community, and get regular exercise; and they are less likely to feel sad/depressed and bully others (1, 2).
For more information related to community connectedness, see’s Research & Links section.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Austin, G., et al. (2013). Guidebook to the California Healthy Kids Survey, part II: Survey content - core module, 2013-14 edition. WestEd. Retrieved from:

2.  Murphey, D., et al. (2013). Caring adults: Important for positive child well-being. Child Trends. Retrieved from:
How Children Are Faring
According to 2011-13 data, about two-thirds of California public school students (in grades 7, 9, 11, and non-traditional classes) expressed a high level of agreement that adults in the community had high expectations of them (66%) and that adults in the community cared about them (63%), but less than half reported a high level of agreement that they had opportunities for meaningful participation in their community (47%). Within each measure, students in grades 7, 9, and 11 reported similarly, but percentages were substantially lower among students in non-traditional schools (i.e., Community Day Schools or Continuation Education).

Levels of total community assets – a summary measure that includes student reports of caring relationships, high expectations, and meaningful participation – were similar among California 7th, 9th, and 11th graders in 2011-13, with 63-66% reporting high levels. As with other measures related to community connectedness, percentages were lower among non-traditional students (41% reporting high levels). Levels of community assets also vary by gender, race/ethnicity, and by county and school district. For example, among racial/ethnic groups in California, the percentage of students reporting high levels of community assets in 2011-13 ranged from 59% for Latino and American Indian/Alaska Native students to 75% for White students.
Policy Implications
Home and school environments are widely recognized as critical influences on child well being. The larger community, too, can influence children's lives in powerful ways (1, 2, 3). Youth connections to individuals, groups, and organizations in a community can provide important sources of support to promote healthy development. In particular, connections to caring adults outside of the home and school -- such as after-school program staff, mentors, coaches, relatives, family friends, or others -- and opportunities to engage in meaningful community activities can help youth develop positive strengths and skills, and can increase the likelihood that they grow into healthy, productive adults (1, 3, 4). Community support can be especially important for vulnerable children, such as those in foster care or those in disadvantaged neighborhoods with a lack of resources for youth (1, 5).

According to research and subject experts, policy and program options that could improve youth community connectedness include:
  • Providing opportunities for meaningful youth participation and contribution outside of school, e.g., service learning programs, volunteerism, employment, or leadership opportunities such as youth advisory councils (4, 6)
  • Supporting high quality mentoring programs that foster trusting relationships between young people and caring individuals (7)
  • Supporting high quality after-school programs, as they can provide positive relationships, learning opportunities, meaningful activities, and safe environments during hours when many youth otherwise would be unsupervised (4, 8, 9)
  • Focusing on services that support vulnerable populations who are sometimes alienated from their peers both in and out of school, such as LGBT youth and foster care youth (5, 10, 11)
  • Developing comprehensive, community prevention strategies that encourage connections and collaboration among individuals, families, schools, and community organizations, as these efforts have been linked to positive youth outcomes, including lower rates of substance use and delinquent behavior, and improved emotional health and academic success (2, 10, 12)
For more policy ideas and information, see’s Research & Links section. Also see Policy Implications on under School Connectedness, Emotional Health, Bullying/Harassment at School, and Suicide and Self Inflicted Injuries.

Sources for this narrative:

1.  Murphey, D., et al. (2013). Caring adults: Important for positive child well-being. Child Trends. Retrieved from:

2.  Catalano, R., & Kuklinski, M. (2011). Mobilizing communities to implement tested and effective programs to help youth avoid risky behaviors: The Communities that Care approach. Child Trends. Retrieved from:

3.  Bernat, D., & Resnik, M. (2009). Connectedness in the lives of adolescents. Chapter 19 in Adolescent health: Understanding and preventing risk behaviors. Retrieved from:

4.  Austin, G., et al. (2013). Guidebook to the California Healthy Kids Survey, part II: Survey content - core module. WestEd. Retrieved from:

5.  Ahrens, K., et al. (2011). Qualitative exploration of relationships with important non-parental adults in the lives of youth in foster care. Children and Youth Services Review, 33(6), 1012-1023. Retrieved from: 

6.  Zeldin, S., et al. (2013). The psychology and practice of youth-adult partnership: Bridging generations for youth development and community change. American Journal of Community Psychology, 51(3-4), 385-397. Retrieved from:

7.  Lawner, E., et al. (2013). What works for mentoring programs: Lessons from experimental evaluations of programs and interventions. Child Trends. Retrieved from:

8.  Afterschool Alliance. (2014). Taking a deeper dive into afterschool: Positive outcomes and promising practices. Retrieved from:

9.  Smith, E., et al. (2013). Measuring collective efficacy among children in community-based afterschool programs: Exploring pathways toward prevention and positive youth development. American Journal of Community Psychology, 52(0), 27-40. Retrieved from:

10.  Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (n.d.). Strategic direction for the prevention of suicidal behavior: Promoting individual, family, and community connectedness. Retrieved from:

11.  Kosciw, J., et al. (2014). The 2013 National School Climate Survey: The experiences of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth in our nation’s schools. Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network. Retrieved from:

12.  Harris, E., & Wilkes, S. (2013). Partnerships for learning: Community support for youth success. Harvard Family Research Project. Retrieved from:
Websites with Related Information
Key Reports and Research
County/Regional Reports
More Data Sources For Community Connectedness