Poverty leaves more than social impact

(Anderson) Herald Bulletin

In addressing the well-being of Indiana’s children, Hoosiers seem comfortable when statistics stay steady.

Some might think: If there’s no huge change in the health or economic conditions among impoverished children, then there’s no real state of alarm.

But we tend to overlook that improvements, however small, need to occur. And if they don’t there are consequences we may not know about.

As a prime example, consider the annual, national KIDS COUNT report issued by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The survey ranks states by examining education, health, economics and family and community trends.

This year, Indiana ranked 32 in overall child well-being, down from 27th in 2014. The report found that 354,00 Hoosier children — or one in five — live in poverty. Add to that, 12 percent of the children live in high-poverty areas, an increase of 4 percent since 2008.

Some good news is found in subcategories, areas that add up to the whole.

  • The number of teens who abuse alcohol or drugs dropped 2 percent from 8 in 2007 and 6 percent in 2012-2013.
  • Deaths among children and teens dropped to 30 percent, per 100,000, in 2013 from 40 percent.
  • Children without health insurance dropped from 10 percent in 2008 to 8 percent in 2013.
  • Some Hoosiers might see an up-trend in this area as offsetting any bad news. It does not.

The report was released the same week as another study; this one looked at the harm that poverty causes to children’s brains.

Published in JAMA Pediatrics, the study analyzed hundreds of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans. It found that children from poor households had smaller amounts of gray matter in areas of the brain responsible for the capabilities needed for learning.

Researchers speculated that poorer children receive less stimulation from parents or lack developmental tools such as books, games, even crayons. Suddenly, poverty has become a medical issue on its own.

When looking at the grand scale of poverty, gains sometimes seem insignificant. But solutions will come, perhaps piecemeal, as individual agencies develop strategies to strengthen families, increase economic opportunities and widen health options for struggling communities.

Small changes can lead to important gains. Advances are needed in access to parenting skills, better nutrition practices and concentrated health insurance efforts to assist children living in poverty.

And, based on a new study, living in poverty can hurt children more than we ever knew.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association.