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Study To Track 11,000 Chicago Youths for Eight Years

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The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the National Institute of Justice recently announced what they call the "largest research project ever undertaken'' to study human development in a major American city.

The $32 million study, which will begin at the end of this month, will track 11,000 children--selected from an initial pool of 150,000--in diverse Chicago neighborhoods over eight years.

The MacArthur Foundation and the N.I.J. have each committed $10 million so far for the first five years of the project.

Other foundations and government agencies may help finance the project in its last three years, according to Laurie Garduque, a program officer for the MacArthur Foundation.

The researchers say their purpose is to help identify how specific forces in the environment exert positive or negative influences on children and young adults.

Previous studies on crime and delinquency have focused on adolescence or early childhood and not on as broad an age range, the researchers said. But in this study, called "The Project on Human Development in Chicago Neighborhoods,'' researchers will focus on groups of males and females ranging from pre-birth to age 24.

To describe the program's goals, John K. Holton, the site director for the project, uses an analogy to the troubled Hubble space telescope, whose defective lens had to be repaired.

"We want to look into the unknown of raising children in urban environments and, like Hubble, retrofit the lenses so we get a clearer picture,'' he said.

Mr. Holton said 44 researchers will interview the subjects, their parents, and teachers two or three times each year.

The researchers will investigate why certain communities have high crime rates, why some individuals resort to destructive behavior, and what families, schools, and government agencies can do to improve social development.

A Data Base for the Future

The large sample, the emphasis on both individuals and communities, and the factors of different income levels and racial groups will allow for a comprehensive view, said Dr. Felton Earls, a professor of human behavior and development at the Harvard School of Public Health and the director of the project.

"This study will let us see where many different behaviors begin and end,'' Dr. Earls said.

The result, he said, will be a data base that will allow other researchers to delve into the relationships of different urban environments to social development.

Dr. Earls expects that the extensive amount of planning that was done over several years for the study will help shorten the amount of time between data collection and analysis.

"In the first year of the project, we should be able to characterize what kinds of problems [related to children and young adults] exist in neighborhoods throughout Chicago and how they relate to neighborhood characteristics,'' Dr. Earls said. More definitive results will be released in 2001, he added.

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