Leveraging Community Partners for Camden Assets and Needs Assessment

Strong partner collaboration drives a comprehensive community assessment of a distressed neighborhood in Camden, New Jersey. Findings led to greater use of community assets and the development of new programs and services along a cradle-to-career continuum.

The Delaware River provides a boundary between Pennsylvania and New Jersey at Camden and Philadelphia.

Camden City is located in southwestern New Jersey directly across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. Although once recognized as a prosperous center for manufacturing and industry, Camden has more recently become more well known for its challenges.

With support from then-Mayor Dana Redd, in 2010, Center For Family Services (CFS), the city’s anchor social service institution, launched a comprehensive, multi-partner effort to improve educational and developmental outcomes for children and families living in the city’s Cooper Lanning neighborhood. Serving as the cornerstone for a renewed, stronger Camden, this call for transformative change represented a vision shared by partners and residents alike. Funding from the US Department of Education’s Promise Neighborhoods Initiative fueled the partnership’s strategic plan to improve outcomes for Camden’s children, youth, and families.

Leveraging the Community as Data Partners

Armed with a Promise Neighborhood Planning Grant, CFS and its partners contracted with Metis to direct a comprehensive study of the assets and needs of the children, youth, and families residing in Cooper Lanning. As the lead research partner, Metis worked closely with:

  • Researchers and graduate students from Rutgers University-Camden
  • Data specialists from CamConnect, a local non-profit whose mission is to make data more accessible to the Camden community
  • Community residents assembled and specially trained by CFS and CamConnect

The charge of the research team was to gather the necessary information for the Camden partners to develop a results-oriented, cradle-to-career continuum of solutions. The study team collected baseline data on the assets, needs, and service delivery gaps related to the eight Promise Neighborhood result areas:

  1. School Readiness
  2. Student Proficiency in Academics
  3. Successful Transition from Middle School to High School
  4. HS Graduation
  5. Healthy Students and Families
  6. Family and Community Support Learning
  7. Safe and Stable Community
  8. Access to 21st Century Learning Tools 

The data were to inform the development of a continuum of education, health, social, and economic supports for Cooper Lanning families aligned with school and neighborhood improvement efforts already underway.

The study team collected and analyzed primary and secondary data relevant to each result area. Data were obtained from the following sources and methods: 

  • National and state-level administrative data sources
  • Local administrative data, needs assessment reports, and resource maps provided by partners and other city agencies
  • Inventory of existing programs, services, and resources of Cooper Lanning service providers and educational institutions
  • Surveys of Cooper Lanning families and youth
  • Focus groups with Cooper Lanning adult residents and youth 
  • Interviews with community stakeholders and service providers working in Cooper Lanning

Putting Assessment Findings into Action

The assessment revealed key insights that could help inform the cradle-to-career continuum. Some of the community’s assets provided a foundation for positive change. These included new public-safety measures (such as a new police force, citywide installation of security cameras, and neighborhood watch programs), redevelopment efforts in Cooper Lanning, the establishment of the Camden Higher Education & Healthcare Task Force, and high-quality health services at Cooper University Hospital.

Data from the Camden assessment were also used by partners to launch a set of new programs, including:

  • Baby College parenting fundamentals classes
  • A food-access program
  • A comprehensive family literacy program
  • A neighborhood-based Family Success Center
  • A school-readiness program in partnership with AmeriCorps