Langley Park Community Needs Assessment Report: Q&A with Zorayda Moreira-Smith, CASA de Maryland

Jul 8, 2014, 1:17 PM

Late last month several organizations in Washington, D.C., and suburban Maryland—including CASA de Maryland, the Urban Institute, Prince George’s County Public Schools and other Langley Park Promise Neighborhood partners—released the Langley Park Community Needs Assessment Report, a year-long community assessment supported by the U.S. Department of Education Promise Neighborhoods program.

The assessment found that few of Langley Park’s 3,700 children—nearly all of whom were born in the United States—are currently on track for a strong future and that their lives are severely impacted by poverty; poor access to health care; high rates of neighborhood crime; chronic housing instability and school mobility; and low levels of parent education and English proficiency. Fewer than half of the community’s children graduate high school in four years, often because of high rates of early pregnancy and early entry into the work force to help support their families.

Following the release of the report, NewPublicHealth spoke with Zorayda Moreira-Smith, the Housing and Community Development Manager at CASA de Maryland.

NewPublicHealth: One factor in students not finishing high school in Langley Park is that many high schools students ages 16-19 drop out so that they can go to work and help support their families. Is this especially an issue of concern in the Latino community?

Zorayda Moreira-Smith: There are a number of reasons people drop out at that age. One of them is that 35 percent are working because of family need. The safety nets that are generally there for individuals aren’t there for immigrant communities. Most of the parents in these families probably left school after 8th or 9th grade. And once you reach a certain age, you’re also seen as an adult, so there’s an expectation that you help out with the family needs. For most of the families in the area, there’s a high unemployment rate or they have temporary jobs or are day laborers. So, as soon as children reach a certain age, there’s the expectation to start helping out financially and I think it’s very common.

And most immigrant families not only support the people that make up their household here in the United States, but also support their family in the countries of their origin. And while our data doesn’t show it, some of these individuals and kids in households could be living with family members who aren’t their parents—they could be their aunts or their uncles or what not. So, also as soon as they’re working, they’re often supporting their siblings or their parents or their grandparents in their origin countries. 

NPH: What surprised you in the report?

Moreira-Smith: I think I would say one of the things that surprised me was the number of kids we have in Langley Park ages 0-4. That age group makes up 45 percent of the kids in the neighborhood, so we need to be thinking about targeting our resources to be able to ensure that this age group has great opportunities moving forward. The report shows that kids in the neighborhood do well in middle school. So they actually do well at a certain point in time until they reach the high school level.

It was also surprising to see the numbers on access to health care, such as the fact that we don’t have any pediatricians in the area. That was very shocking to us. And the report also showed that we have a very small number of primary care givers and no medical specialists. We knew that families traveled—we just didn’t know that all of the families had to travel to neighboring areas to get these medical services.

NPH: What happens next?

Moreira-Smith: We’re going to release a complementary report specifically on strategies and programs that we are going to put into place to address the needs identified in the report. We’ll have a focus on schools and education and that will go from early education to high school and college readiness. We have another program which will focus on healthy initiatives and healthy living, including physical activity and healthy food. We also have a third component on family economic success, which will focus on training education.

The fourth component will be on housing and community development. Housing is especially important. One of the things the report showed us was that a lot of the housing in the area is in really bad condition, and we know that has a health impact on kids and families.

We’ll be working on all four core areas with our partner organizations. We currently have 14 partners who have signed on, and we’re in the process of signing on a few others. We’ve decided to align our resources within this public/private collaborative to really create, target and implement our continuum of solutions.

One of the biggest things that we’re doing with this report, as well as all the work that will ensue, is showing that there’s no one solution that can really deal with all of these issues when we’re looking at communities. It really has to be a number of solutions all aligned together. We need collaborations to create a new way of looking at and responding to community needs, so we’re focusing on really aligning those resources across the board, not just looking at each issue on an isolated basis. That’s what makes the report follow-up distinctive, but it’s also one of the biggest challenges when moving forward.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF New Public Health blog.