Healthy Homes

Learning from Focus Groups on Healthy Homes


Peter Chen

Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ)


Often, public health initiatives face a data gap – the connection between the numbers and the people representing those numbers. For example, broad health data like the rates of lead poisoning, asthma and obesity give a snapshot, but may not provide meaningful insight on how those families and children are impacted. As a result, service providers, government leaders and policy makers may be implementing an intervention without a complete picture.

To help address this gap, the Healthy Homes Subcommittee of the Believe in a Healthy Newark initiative asked Advocates for Children of New Jersey (ACNJ) to conduct focus groups with parents of young children on their knowledge of lead and asthma interventions and pre-existing knowledge about healthy homes.

The first focus group yielded some surprising and humbling responses. The participants, all parents of preschoolers ages 3-5, provided insight into what obstacles exist to implementation of lead and asthma interventions:

  1. Participants possessed a strong knowledge of the effects and causes of lead exposure and asthma – many had a family member personally impacted by these health issues. In this group, lead and asthma education efforts seem to have worked.
  2. Participants did not demonstrate a strong knowledge of resources available for: lead testing, lead remediation, free blood lead testing for children, or school-based asthma resources. Although multiple parents indicated that they had peeling paint in their home or that they had a child with asthma, none mentioned prevention programs.
  3. Participants were largely renters, which meant that housing conditions often depended on the landlord. Landlord control over general maintenance, pest control, heating and cooling, and security deposits put tenants in a difficult position when it came to requesting repairs or inspections.
  4. Participants suggested more community-focused and person-to-person approaches to getting information out about lead and asthma interventions. They suggested meeting families where they are – in churches, barbershops, parks and neighborhood events – rather than hope that passive information finds them.

Focus groups are non-scientific and sample sizes may not always be representative. But listening directly to parents and families in the community we serve is invaluable in implementing effective solutions.


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