Trauma and Poverty Effects on Children

One of the causal factors for developing addiction can be childhood trauma, abuse, or untreated mental health issues. To help children, 70 of the 2,116 schools in Los Angeles County have worked out deals with government-funded mental health providers to provide more counselors in their schools, according to Robert Byrd, clinical district chief at the Department of Mental Health. “The value,” he said, “is to catch the mental health needs early enough so that children and youth have a more positive trajectory in life and don’t need intensive services later.”

Statistics prove that children living in poor neighborhoods are more likely to suffer traumatic incidents, like witnessing or being the victims of violence, parental neglect or abuse. These kids also struggle with daily stress caused by food or housing insecurity and overworked or underemployed, stressed-out parents. The majority of the students in the Los Angeles Unified School District are living daily in poverty and scientists are researching how it affects their developing brains.

In children living with traumatic events, researchers have found these events compound, affecting many parts of the body, physically and mentally. Past studies show chronic stress can change the chemical and physical structures of the brain. This is especially dangerous in the developing brains of children. Researchers have linked chronic stress to a host of cognitive effects, including trouble with attention, concentration, memory and creativity, which frequently co-occur with substance abuse and addiction.

“You see deficits in the ability to regulate emotions in adaptive ways as a result of stress,” said Dr. Cara Wellman, a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Indiana University.

The right intervention can make a difference and research shows that children who feel they have support from an adult seem to do better than those who do not. Schools and teachers are implementing new programs to “use positivity and relationships to reverse some of the negative effects of poverty.” Some schools have parent liaisons to provide referrals for families dealing with financial difficulties and other personal issues. Public meetings also teach parents how to become involved in their children’s education and provide them the best possible foundation for a successful and healthy future.



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