Youth; not a topic I typically write on as my area of interest is older adults. This article in the Globe and Mail caught my eye and made me pause- ‘How Poverty Influences a Child’s Brain Development.’
The article talks about two groups of kindergarten age children in British Columbia, Canada. How could children drawn from a city of just 85,000 people end up with wiring that was essentially different? They had grown up with any number of genetic and environmental influences affecting their brain development and behaviour, but one variable stood out: affluence.
“It also underscores the stunning human cost of what is called the “socio-economic gradient.” Only 3 to 4 per cent of Canadian children are born with inherited differences that will limit their physical, emotional or intellectual growth, yet an average of 25 to 30 percent exhibit some level of developmental vulnerability that could include a cognitive “deficit.”
The Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences issued a report in November that surveys the new research on how socio-economic factors can affect someone’s biological makeup – and warning of “dire consequences for the individual and society” if nothing is done. The report concludes by calling for a broad strategy of investment in early childhood.
What does all of this mean for youth? Those of the lower socio-economic demographic are there as of no fault of their own; basically they were born there or the parents ended up there due to job loss or other issues. Lower income typically means less money to purchase healthier food, participate in extra-curricular activities like sports, creative arts like pottery or various dancing whether ballet, hip hop, tap dance or Irish Dance. Perhaps the access to healthcare is limited which could mean fewer vaccinations, yearly check-ups or screenings for hearing, visual issues, physical or learning disabilities.
A developing brain that has been influenced by a stressful or chaotic social environment at an early age may lead to a child with serious attention issues in the classroom years later.
The school one attends can have a strong influence on learning, social adaptation and acceptance, extra help available, after school programming and sometimes the quality of teachers and support staff. If violence- whether it be fighting or weapons is an issue-children tend to become super vigilant of their surroundings.
Are computers, the internet, library books, assistance of a social worker, psychologist, nurse or other support staff part of the school environment? Is it safe to walk or take the bus to school? Many questions and factors that have an influence on youth in school. To me, this just stresses the need for more funding and resources for primary education. What are your thoughts?
*Written by Victoria Brewster, MSW
SJS Staff Writer in Canada*
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