Poverty Is Now Considered a Childhood Disease

At the 2013 annual meeting of the Pediatric Academic Society Hope for poor children!there was a new call for pediatricians to address childhood poverty as a national problem, rather than wrestling with its consequences case by case in the exam room.  Poverty damages children’s dispositions and blunts their brains and poverty in this country is now likely to define many children’s life trajectories in the harshest terms: poor academic achievement, high dropout rates, and health problems from obesity and diabetes to heart disease, substance abuse and mental illness. Recently, there has been a lot of focus on the idea of toxic stress, in which a young child’s body and brain may be damaged by too much exposure to so-called stress hormones, like cortisol and norepinephrine. When this level of stress is experienced at an early age, and without sufficient protection, it may actually reset the neurological and hormonal systems, permanently affecting children’s brains and even, we are learning, their genes. Toxic stress is the heavy hand of early poverty, scripting a child’s life not in the Horatio Alger scenario of determination and drive, but in the patterns of disappointment and deprivation that shape a life of limitations.  Dr. Benard P. Dreyer, professor of pediatrics at New York University and a past president of the Academic Pediatric Association, called on pediatricians to take on poverty as a serious underlying threat to children’s health. He was prompted by the widening disparities between rich and poor, and the gathering weight of evidence about the importance of early childhood, and the ways that deprivation and stress in the early years of life can reduce the chances of educational and life success.  “After the first three, four, five years of life, if you have neglected that child’s brain development, you can’t go back,” he said. In the middle of the 20th century, our society made a decision to take care of the elderly, once the poorest demographic group in the United States. Now, with Medicare and Social Security, only 9 percent of older people live in poverty. Children are now our poorest group, with almost 25 percent of children under 5 living below the federal poverty level.

When Tony Blair became prime minister of Britain, amid growing socioeconomic disparities, he made it a national goal to cut child poverty in half in 10 years. It took a coalition of political support and a combination of measures that increased income, especially in families with young children (minimum wage, paid maternity and paternity leaves, tax credits), and better services — especially universal preschool programs. By 2010, reducing child poverty had become a goal across the British political spectrum, and child poverty had fallen to 10.6 percent of children below the absolute poverty line (similar to the measure used in the United States), down from 26.1 percent in 1999.  “Poor families who benefited from the reform were able to spend more money on items for children: books and toys, children’s clothing and footwear, fresh fruits and vegetables,” said Jane Waldfogel, a professor of social work at Columbia who has studied the British war on childhood poverty.  Dr. Dreyer said: “Income matters. You get people above the poverty level, and they actually are better parents. It’s critical to get people out of poverty, but in addition our focus has to be on also giving families supports for other aspects of their lives — parenting, interventions in primary care, universal preschool.”

Check out the full article at:


photo credit:  http://farm5.staticflickr.com/4096/4821945192_4506c7c301_n.jpg



Wealth in the USA

Wealth in the USA

Money by 401(K) 2013The country may have financial problems, but kids didn’t create them.  Cutting children’s programs is seldom wise – investing in child health, education, and wellbeing is typically a good strategy towards ensuring a brighter tomorrow.  Take a look at this video website. It is really fascinating because it looks at what people think the wealth distribution is, and what it actually is.  If you thought you knew, think again.  This is illuminating!




Thanks (for) Giving

It is Thanksgiving and all around the country families will be getting together.  Ideally, we will sit around a table groaning from food a-plenty, and share laughter and love with those we hold dear. Parents will role-model for children what it means to care and have gratitude.  Chances are good that these children will grow up to one day role model those types of caring behaviors to their dear ones.

But in many families, holidays are time for conflict, bickering and tears.  Add in too much alcohol and interpersonal tensions, and it is a recipe for disaster.  Children learn that family time is a time when trouble may erupt, and when getting together means it is safer to hide than partake in the festivities.  In homes where domestic violence resides, children give thanks merely when they can survive the day without a physically or emotionally violent episode.

As we gather together, UNICEF gives us a stark reminder about the impact of family violence. Take a minute to check out this youtube on the impact that family violence has on children.

Give your kids a holiday to remember, one that is full of plenty of sweetness – and peace.

Teenagers and Sexting: Thursday, Sept. 20 at 12 p.m.


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The Center for Childhood and Youth Studies at Salem State University presents:

Postfeminist media cultures and the affective, moral and visual economy of teens’ sexually explicit digital content

Jessica Ringrose, PhD
Senior Lecturer in the Sociology of Gender and Education
Institute of Education, University of London

How do young people experience the sending and receiving of sexually explicit content through mobile, digital technologies? At this presentation, Dr. Ringrose shares the findings of her study on “sexting” with 35 teens from two inner city London schools. She reports that among boys, collecting explicit images of girls served as a way to secure status among peers. In contrast, most girls experienced “sexting” with these boys as a site of potential risk, blame, and hatred around sexual reputation (e.g., being called a slut). Join Dr. Ringrose for a provocative discussion of how digital technology mediates school life, including gendered and sexualized peer hierarchies, popularity, intimacy, sexualized bullying, and harassment.

ImageJessica Ringrose is a Senior Lecturer in the Sociology of Gender and Education, at the Institute of Education, London. Recent research projects have explored gender and sexual identities among teens in secondary school, including uses of digital technology, ‘sexualisation’, ‘sexting’ and ‘cyberbullying’.  Theoretically and methodologically her work develops feminist poststructural and psychosocial approaches to understanding subjectivity and affect. Recent and forthcoming books include: Post-Feminist Education? Girls and the sexual politics of schooling (Routledge, 2012, research monograph); Rethinking Gendered Regulations and Resistances in Education, (Routledge, 2012, edited); and Deleuze and Research Methodologies (Edinburgh University Press, 2013, co-edited with Rebecca Coleman).

Event details:
Thursday, Sept 20, 2012, 12:00 – 1:15 p.m.
Martin Luther King Jr. Room
Ellison Campus Center
352 Lafayette St.
Salem State University, Salem, Mass.

This event is free and open to the public.


A Good Childhood

A Good Childhood

029 - happy children of kıyıköy by Atakan Sevgi

What if every child in the world had a good childhood?  Imagine how wonderful a world it could be.

There are those of us trying to create just that kind of world.  Investing in children is the best investment there is.  We are not alone in these pursuits.  The Association for Childhood Education International, a member of the World Forum Alliance, is promoting a Ten Pillars of A Good Childhood movement as the basis for their Decade for Childhood campaign.

You can learn more about it at


Here are the Ten Pillars on which they feel we could build good childhoods for your youngest citizens:

  1. Safe and secure places for living and learning and access to health care, clothing, and nutritious food.
  2. Strong families and loving, consistent caregivers.
  3. Social interactions and friendship.
  4. Creative play and physical activity.
  5. Appreciation and stewardship of the natural environment.
  6. Creative expression through music, dance, drama, and other arts.
  7. Education that develops the full capacities of the child — cognitive, physical, social, emotional, and ethical.
  8. Supportive, nurturing, child-friendly communities.
  9. Growing independence and decision making.
  10. Children and youth participating in community life.

None of them are that hard to do individually. Collectively, they will shape our future.  Like all things, tomorrow is reached one step at a time.  Let’s hold hands and start walking…..

On transitional-aged youth: On disability, relationships and violence


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Often, when one thinks of a young person with a disability, being part of a relationship may not be the first image that pops to mind.  With the advent of the community inclusion meta-policy dictate as well as, for example, the many disability-specific dating websites that have cropped up around the country, finding an intimate partner is perhaps more accessible than ever for people with disabilities.

Although women with disabilities as a whole are thought to be at increased risk of intimate partner violence (IPV), little is known about how this phenomenon impacts transitional-aged young women with disabilities between the ages of 18-21 (Doe, 2000).  As a result of methodological differences in existing research, there are widely varying estimates of the rate of abuse of women with disabilities, which range from women with disabilities being two to eleven times more likely to experience abuse.  While the precise prevalence of IPV among adult women with disabilities is unknown, most estimates of IPV among adult women with disabilities overall are roughly in the range of 50% to 60% (Coker, Smith and Fadden, 2005; Coker, Davis, Arias, Desai, Sanderson and Brandt, 2002; Carlson, 1998;  Curry, Powers and Oschwald, 2003; Slayter, 2009).  How this phenomenon impacts transitional-aged women with disabilities, however, is unknown and uncounted.  As adult women with disabilities are generally at a higher risk for IPV, there is a concern that transitional-aged women with disabilities will also be at a higher risk.

What is important to realize is that IPV has also been identified as a major concern for transitional aged youth who are still trying to master the developmental challenges of adolescence into their twenties.  As youth transition to adulthood, they face a number of challenges to their emotional and social development regardless of their disability status, and are at risk for dating or relationship violence (Makepeace, 1981; Lewis & Fremouw, 2001, Straus, 2004). Transitional age young women with disabilities are of particular interest as they have the potential to fall through the cracks’ of disability service systems as they age out of education or youth-focused systems of care, while also experiencing the same challenges to emotional and social development of all young adults their age.

New research conducted by the author (and her colleagues Liz Lightfoot at the University of Minnesota and Monical Leisey at Salem State University), suggests that indeed, transitional-aged young women with disabilities are at increased risk of IPV – and experience higher rates of IPV than do transitional-aged women without disabilities.

Risk factors for IPV pronounced:  The examination of risk factors for IPV between the sample and comparison group suggest that overall, risk factors for IPV were more prevalent among the transitional-aged women with disabilities than the transitional-aged women without disabilities.  Transitional-aged women with disabilities were 3.5 times more likely to report experiencing abuse as a child or to have observed IPV between their parents as a child.  Additionally, partner-related risk factors for IPV that were more prevalent among women with disabilities included being 1.5 times more likely to have a partner that abuses alcohol and3.4 times more likely to have a partner that is unemployed.

Increased prevalence of experiencing IPV:  In regards to self-reported past year experience of IPV, framed as a partner pushing, grabbing or shoving them; throwing something at them; slapping or hitting them in the past year,  transitional-aged women with disabilities were almost four times more likely to report this level of IPV than were their counterparts without disabilities.

This study’s findings support existing knowledge about increased prevalence of IPV amongst women with disabilities – but also extend the existing knowledge in two important ways.  First, this study draws on a nationally-representative, population-based dataset that purposefully oversampled women of color.  Given existing calls for IPV research that is more inclusive of women of color, this study assists in beginning to fill this gap in the literature.  Further, given the strength of the data source used, estimates presented herein are likely robust in terms of generalizing to the experience of many women with disabilities.

Second, this study highlights the experience of a particularly vulnerable population of women with disabilities – those in the transitional-aged category between ages 18-21.   These findings suggest that special attention is needed to these young women with disabilities regarding both prevention of IPV and interventions related to IPV. Given the bifurcated nature of disability service systems for youth and adults, there can be bridging issues related to service accessibility across a range of domains. In addition, there are questions about the developmentally-appropriate or inappropriate targeting of services for populations in between childhood and adulthood.  While these challenges have started to command attention in, for example, the world of homeless services for youth, discussion has not yet extended as extensively to the IPV community of service providers.  Therefore, the present study has important implications for practice both in IPV settings and disability settings.

Building awareness:  As the study findings document increased risk for IPV amongst transitional-aged women with disabilities as compared to their counterparts without disabilities, there is a need for an understanding of this prevalence among front-line social service system workers who work both with youth and adults.   By gaining an understanding of this increased prevalence, front-line social service system workers will be better prepared to consider the potential for IPV among their clients.  Given that transitional-aged women with disabilities may be more likely to receive government-funded supports (e.g. Ticket to Work, SSI, SSDI, etc.), the potentially increased exposure to social welfare system agents – including social workers – suggests a built-in solution vis-à-vis access to a population at risk for prevention, screening, assessment and intervention.  Workers in disability service settings (e.g. vocational rehabilitation centers, Offices for Students with Disabilities in College and University settings, local offices of the Social Security Administrator for SSI and SSDI) may be in a prime position to both screen for IPV, engage in health promotion activities aimed at reducing risk for IPV and intervening as a bridging agent with IPV service providers with this population of young women.

Accessible and population-appropriate screening, assessment and intervention approaches:  Within the field of IPV research related to people with disabilities, significant attention has been drawn to the need for screening and assessment tools that are both accessible and population-appropriate (e.g. challenges of translating English into ASL, regional variations in sign language, medical vs. social constructions of disability).  While the use of developmentally-appropriate screening and assessment tools will be important for the provision of good supports to all transitional-aged young women, this may be an especially important issue for transitional-aged women with developmental delays.   As approaches to intervention are developed for specific applications to this population of youth, an intermediate step that could be of use to social workers engaged in practice with this population could derive from cross-system collaboration.  While billing realities and casework demands often inhibit such collaborative efforts, the emergent framework of systems-of-care approaches to care coordination in youth settings around the country could be a model.  If IPV service system professionals can explain both their treatment paradigm and system navigation approaches to disability professionals – and vice-versa, dialogue can begin that can lead to accessible and population-appropriate interventions on individual and group bases.

Planting the seeds of prevention in high school settings:  While transitional-aged women with disabilities will be “served” in adult systems, this does not supplant the need for the seeds of IPV prevention to be sown in high school educational settings.   In fact, these findings suggest that youth with disabilities are in great need of formal interventions during their high school years regarding dating violence and efforts should be made to ensure that programs focusing on preventing teen dating violence be inclusive of youth with disabilities. Further, given that many young people with disabilities in high school settings will be likely to have increased exposure to school-based professionals as a result of their Individual Education Plans under the Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA), this presents an opportunity point for the fostering of more informal discussions around healthy relationships, dating violence and the like.  

This blog post is part of an ongoing series by Dr. Elspeth Slayter, a researcher affiliated with the Center for Childhood and Youth Studies, exploring current national social welfare services conversations about “transitional-aged youth” given the changing nature of how we understand adolescence and early adulthood as well as the policies, programs, and systems that support this population.  Dr. Slayter is a health and disability services researcher who studies children and youth in social welfare systems.

Kids and Camp

                        Kids and Camp

Kids need to go to camp.  They learn independence, coping skills, how to manage collective living, and how to appreciate the gifts and challenges that other people bring to them.  It’s good for them to know they can survive without their family, and that they can make it on their own – with help from caring camp staff, of course! Camp affords them the opportunity to learn new skills in new environments, and these experiences may last them a lifetime.  We want for them to have positive, happy memories of these days.

I researched camps in my book, How To Keep Your Children Safe (University Press of New England) and have these recommendations for parents to help them to choose a camp:

Identify what your child needs from a camp experience.  There are many different types of camps to choose from.  These include day camps, sleepover camps, sports camps, wilderness camps, health camps, art camps, therapy camps, academic camps, religious camps, community service camps, international experience camps, etc.  What does your child need physically, emotionally, socially, and intellectually? How long is the right amount of time to be away from home? Younger children may need shorter time periods away than older youth who may benefit from longer camp adventures.

Identify what you, the parent, needs from camp.  Camp is a big deal for parents too.  Do you need camp as day care since you have to work and want the kids involved in structured activity?  Do you ache at the thought of your kids being away from you for an extended period of time?  Or do you view camp as an opportunity for a little personal respite?  Knowing your agenda behind camp is important.

Do your research and select the right camp for the right kid.  Goodness of fit is essential to a positive camp experience.  Sometimes parents opt for the most convenient camp, which may not always be the best for one’s child.  The American Camping Association (ACA) (www.acacamps.org) has a detailed list of them by type and location.  The ACA camps must meet a long set of standards in order to gain their accreditation and are usually safer bets than other ones.

Check out the camp.  It may be one thing to buy a sweater on-line just by looking at a picture and reading a description, but it’s entirely different thing when shopping for your kid’s camp.  One camp director told me how stunned she was that some parents would simply fill out the online application and send their darlings and lots of money far away to camp without ever visiting the camp or calling the camp to talk to the staff.

Analyze the cost-benefit.  What is your child going to get from the camp, really? How competent is the staff?  How are they trained? What is the staff-to-camper ratio?  What percent of campers and staff return?  Sometimes camps don’t cost much – and the kids don’t get much.  Other camps may cost more but the staff competence, safety and programs make them worth it.  Be careful for predatory camps that have lots of glitz and provide little in return.

How are health issues addressed?  You want to make sure kids are safe.  Is there a doctor or nurse on camp premises?  How many staff members are certified in CPR and First Aid?  What are the safety practices, especially around water, hiking, or other physically challenging or risky behaviors?  Kids may get everything from bug bites to broken arms, and it’s smart to know ahead of time how competently problems will be managed. Some children have physical, cognitive, emotional or behavioral issues that will need to be managed, and good conversation between parent and camp directors need to occur ahead of time.  Realistically, the camp may not be equipped to deal with the problems of certain types of campers.  Some camp counselors are just a smidge older than the campers and may not have the maturity or training to deal with some campers.   Homesickness is predictable, and kids may have emotional issues that have to be addressed.  So knowing camp health practices is wise.

How does the camp handle discipline?  Sometimes even the best behaved child loses it. You may want the disciplinary practices of the camp to mirror your own.  Private camps that are not ACA accredited may use disciplinary practices you don’t like.  Therapy camps sometimes engage in practices that one may find questionable.  So ask!

If parents do their homework, chances are their children will remember their camp days with laughter and joy, not trembling and upset.  There is never 100% guarantee of how things will turn out, but savvy parents can increase the chances their children will have the time of their life!

On transitional-aged youth: Of brain science and juvenile justice


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As a social worker practicing in a South Bronx criminal defense law office, I often felt that the youth I helped to represent  were unjustly served by the “adult” system they were prosecuted in. During the 1990s, almost every state in the nation paved the way for youth aged circa 15-17 who would otherwise be tried as juveniles to be “transferred” to the adult criminal justice system.

Although my clients were sometimes tall and filled-out with fully-formed attitudes, their bouncing, goofy demeanor would often surface within moments, rendering the physical trappings of adulthood useless.  On my last day with The Bronx Defenders, tears fled my eyes as I watched a particularly young and bouncy client with doe eyes being led back to the Rikers Island jail – where she would soon be packaged up and shipped out to an adult prison for the duration of her 10-year sentence for a first-time non-violent drug offense.

There is no question that I was burned out – but I found my passion for the work again once ensconced in a doctoral program where I soon became exposed to research that led me to conclude that much of juvenile justice policy is not rooted in the existing scientific evidence.

Here is what we know about adolescents and brain development.  While typically-developing adolescents aged fifteen and up are often as capable as adults in focused decision-making situations (this is sometimes referred to as “cold cognition”), impulsive and short-sighted judgment can by impacted by both psychological and cognitive factors (this is sometimes referred to as “hot cognition”).  What this means is that in emotionally-heavy or charged situations, the parts of the brain that regulate emotion (versus reasoning) may be more more likely to be engaged.  Couple this with the presence of what is often an under-developed sense of responsibility and, well, Houston, we have a problem.

Explained in more scientific parlance, Nitin Gogtay et alia (2004) explain this phenomenon as follows: “the prefrontal cortex of the brain is crucial for weighing risk vs. reward, future planning, impulse control, and is critical for a person to be able to make rational decisions” yet the science supports the fact that this is one of the last parts of the brain to fully mature by late adolescence.

It is for this reason that I have happily participated in the movement to recognize that adult treatments, services and social welfare systems may not always be right for adolescents.  Although this harkens back to Jane Addams 1899 fight for the development of the juvenile court in the first place, in response to the at-the-time new notion that youth were not, in fact, “little adults,” it behooves us to recognize the following (reprinted from the Campaign for youth Justice): engaging in reckless behavior is often normative, it is harder for adolescents to engage in self control is often more difficult than it is for adults and in choice-making, adolescents may be more likely to prioritize rewards over risks at key junctures – especially with respect to considering long-term consequences.  Given this knowledge, once again a re-consideration of the juvenile “transfer” process is warranted – especially in recognition of the “transitional-aged youth” concept.

What do YOU think?

This blog post is part of an ongoing series by Dr. Elspeth Slaytera researcher affiliated with the Center for Childhood and Youth Studies, exploring current national social welfare services conversations about “transitional-aged youth” given the changing nature of how we understand adolescence and early adulthood as well as the policies, programs, and systems that support this population.  Dr. Slayter is a health and disability services researcher who studies children and youth in social welfare systems.