Friday, May 20, 2016

In DPS Legislation, Aim to Make Kids' Lives Better

This letter to the editor appeared in the Detroit Free Press on May 14, 2016

In DPS Legislation, Aim to Make Kids' Lives Better

Research at the Western Michigan University Children’s Trauma Assessment Center finds “trauma occurs when there is an overwhelming event or events that render a child helpless, powerless, or creates a threat of harm or loss to the child or to someone critically important to the child. Toxic stress has a cumulative effect. Children who have experienced untreated trauma [including poverty] have a greater likelihood of developmental delays, academic failure and future mental and physical health problems, including heart disease, diabetes, substance abuse, depression, and earlier death.”
Absent in the debate about the future of Detroit Public Schools is discussion of the wellbeing of the children of Detroit, the traumatic conditions in which most of them live, and the additional trauma to children caused by the chaos of their schools.
While some Detroit neighborhoods are humming with growth, development, and hope, others are teaming with desolation, poverty, and fear. Children live in both places. The landscapes represent their multiple realities. When uncertainty becomes the norm of school--places that are supposed to foster learning, which requires safety and predictability, coupled with the effects on the brain of poverty and trauma, the ability to learn is challenged and children become powerless.

As the Legislature debates this issue, we implore you to think of the children. Please consult researchers over special interests. Please give children hope. Please use precious resources to improve the social, emotional, and educational well being of the children of Detroit. An unprecedented investment in DPS must make better the lives children live.


James Henry, Ph.D., Project Director,
Western Michigan University’s Children's Trauma Assessment Center

Rod Rock, Ed.D., Superintendent, Clarkston Community Schools

“Family income is significantly correlated with children’s brain size — specifically, the surface area of the cerebral cortex, which is the outer layer of the brain that does most of the cognitive heavy lifting.”

“Poverty depletes parents’ cognitive resources, leaving less capacity for making everyday decisions about parenting. Parents in poverty are also at far greater risk for depression and anxiety.  When parents are distracted or depressed, family life is likely to be characterized by conflict and emotional withdrawal rather than nurturing and supportive relationships with children. Parents don’t talk and read to their kids as often and make less eye contact with them.”
(Nature of Neuroscience, 2015).

“More than 59 percent of Detroit children lived in poverty in 2012, the most recent year for which data is available.... The number of poor Detroit kids has increased 34 percent since 2006.” (Detroit News,
February 19, 2015).

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