30 January 2010

Only one-third of teenage mothers earns a high school diploma or GED

Findings released by Child Trends shows that only 34 percent of adolescent mothers will earn a high school diploma or GED. The age at first birth and education level of the mother are good indicators of the family’s socioeconomic status. Mothers who earn a diploma are more financially stable and more capable of providing necessary resources for the child’s development. Teenage mothers who delayed childbirth until 18 or 19 years old were nearly twice more likely to earn their diploma than younger girls. Studies have shown that children of teenage mothers are more likely to grow up in poverty, become incarcerated, be subjected to abuse or neglect, or have children as teenagers-thus continuing the cycle of premature fertility, poverty, and disadvantage. The attainment of a diploma increases the financial outlook for children and families.

This information is especially important in urban areas where teenage pregnancies, premature births, and infant mortality are high. Adolescent motherhood increases healthcare costs, welfare recipients, and the number of children who live in poverty. Although mothers with high school diplomas are more financially stable, researchers agree that families need to earn twice the national poverty line to adequately support a child. In Shelby County, mothers do not earn that level of financial stability until 29 years of age

26 January 2010

Introducing multiple languages to young children helps strengthen the architecture of the developing brain.

Parents and educators sometimes worry that introducing multiple languages to children too early may lead to linguistic and cognitive delays. Research performed by the San Diego County Office of Education (SDCOE) shows that just the opposite may be true. Children introduced to a second language at an early age do not lag behind their peers. In fact, it is common for young children to mix multiple languages in one sentence, and if bilingual children show a lack of vocabulary recognition, they quickly catch up to their monolingual counterparts by elementary school. Further, bilingual children show a distinct advantage in reading acquisition due to their familiarity with a variety of phonemes. With each new language learned, the brain develops new neural connections, thus strengthening the architecture of the brain and preparing the child for future academic successes.

Experts at Zero to Three offer this advice for multilingual families. Be consistent: speak one language at home and the other outside of the home. They also point out those children who learn their family’s native language early on share a stronger sense of cultural identity. A study conducted by the SCDOE followed four different cohorts of children, each one introduced to a language at a later age (0, 3, 5, and 7 years). Results show that earlier is better. The area of the brain that permits easy language acquisition becomes active at infancy and closes around 10 years old. Cities like San Francisco have developed language immersion preschools citing benefits such as improved understanding in all academic subjects, higher standardized test scores, and better career opportunities.

25 January 2010

Women need 400 micrograms of vitamin folic acid every day to protect against birth defects

January is Birth Defects Prevention Month, and organizations like the March of Dimes and the Grain Foods Foundation are working to raise awareness of the importance of folic acid for healthy birth outcomes. The March of Dimes reports that only 28 percent of women knew that consuming folic acid helps to protect against birth defects; only 11 percent of women knew that folic acid should be taken before becoming pregnant. Serious birth defects that affect the brain and spine, like spina bifida, begin mere weeks after conception. Something as simple as eating enriched grains can prevent these neural tube defects.

For every 1,000 live births, 276.3 infants will be born with birth defects in the state of Tennessee. Birth defects were responsible for 1 in 5 infant deaths in Tennessee in 2004. Memphis already leads the nation in infant mortality, making it imperative that we emphasize proper prenatal care. Women should eat at least 400 micrograms of the B vitamin folic acid every day. This can be found in an assortment of grain products like breads, bagels, pretzels, and pastas. When compared to whole grain items, products made with enriched white flour contain twice as much folic acid.

In the United States, one out of every 33 babies born will have a birth defect, which could inhibit their physical and mental development as they grow into young children. In 2004, the costs for treating birth defects amounted to $2.6 billion. This figure includes hospital costs but does not take into consideration the expenses of treating behavioral and cognitive delays caused by defects. On January 18th, Schnucks pharmacies announced that they will provide free prenatal vitamins to women who can present a valid prescription. Help the March of Dimes and the Grain Foods Foundation by spreading the message.

22 January 2010

Preschools Reshape Pre-Mathematics Curriculum in Response to New Brain Research

New research has prompted preschools in Nashville, Boston, and Washington to create new games, activities, and curriculum to improve mathematic reasoning in young children and to increase kindergarten readiness. Recent studies indicate that even infants can differentiate amounts and quantities. Moreover, by 18 months, children can distinguish between shapes. By preschool, children are able to connect numbers and shapes with corresponding concepts and labels like five and triangle. Aside from basic counting exercises, the majority of early education centers spend little time attempting to teach mathematics to toddlers.

Counting activities have been developed to simultaneously incorporate the three concepts of quantity (e.g.: five apples), the corresponding word (five), and the numerical representation (5). Even traditional games like Chutes and Ladders enhance children’s mathematical ability by teaching the relationship between numbers and quantity. For low-income preschoolers, this head start in math comprehension makes a considerable difference. After one year in a math centered preschool environment, 4 year olds in Nashville and Boston were tested on addition, subtraction, and number recognition and placed in the 76th percentile. Children who did not receive the intervention placed in the 50th percentile. Even after their first year of kindergarten, young children who participated in the program maintained their mathematical advantage by placing in the 71st percentile

20 January 2010

Recession pushing more young children into dire poverty

A recent report from The Brookings Institution estimates that across the country, 5 million additional children will fall into poverty as a result of the current recession. In 2007, Shelby county already had an alarmingly high rate of impoverish children, with an estimated 15 percent of all children ages 0-17 living in dire poverty. In Memphis, that estimation is at 21 percent—1 in every 5 children living in dire poverty (with family incomes less than roughly $10,000 a year).

Children who grow up in poverty lag behind their middle class counterparts in both cognitive and behavioral development. Since the most sensitive period for brain development is before the age of five, it is especially disturbing that nearly a quarter of all pre-school age children in Memphis (23 percent) live in dire poverty. Recent analyses demonstrate that children in families that fall below the poverty line during a recession are less likely to graduate from high school or go on to college than children in families that remained above the poverty line. While some observers see the rise in benefit applications as a signal that our social safety net is working, others see it as a sign of a worsening situation. As the labor market changes and job growth remains stagnant, a true estimate of the economic effect of the current recession on children is yet to be seen.

The jobless rate in the state of Tennessee has almost doubled in the last year, rising from 6.4 to 11 percent. By July 2009, unemployment in Memphis had reached 11.6 percent, higher than state and national averages, meaning that more and more children in our community are living in financially strained households. Across the country, 10.5 million children are estimated to have at least one unemployed parent; that is one out of every seven children in the United States. Children of unemployed parents are more likely to experience increased levels of toxic stress associated with homelessness, domestic abuse, and poverty.

07 January 2010

An increasing number of schoolchildren in the South are poor and minority

A report released today by the Southern Education Foundation notes that the South has become the first region of the country where more than half of public school children are poor and more than half are members of ethnic minority groups.

According to the report, the shift was fueled by influx of Latinos and the return of Blacks to the South in recent years. These trends have exacerbated the demographic shifts which began with the flight of White families to the suburbs during the 1970s and 1980s.

As communities across the South struggle to grow productive, highly educated work forces, they face daunting challenges given the lower achievement rates among poor and minority students, who - too often - reach school at a social, emotional and cognitive disadvantage. By 36 months of age, a child from an impoverished family may have a vocabulary a third the size of a child from a professional family. This inequality tracks with children as they progress through school, and low income children are much more likely to be held back a grade, and to drop out.

According to Michael Rebell, executive director of the Campaign for Educational Equity at Teachers College, Columbia University, the implications of this trend are enormous: "When we realize that the majority of graduates of our schools are going to come from backgrounds with educational deprivation, it makes it imperative that schools be improved." It also becomes imperative to understand that deprivation begins long before children reach the school house doors.

These trends are well-recognized in Memphis, the largest school district in the state of Tennessee, and 21st largest district in the country. More than 80 percent of students in Memphis City Schools are low-income and a similar percentage of students are ethnic minorities.

06 January 2010

Help Prevent Child Abuse

The Memphis CAC (in collaboration with You Have The Power) is providing a free workshop designed to empower ministers, congregational leaders, youth workers, and lay leaders to prevent and respond to child sexual abuse. The event will be held January 11, 2010 from 6:30-8:30 pm at Kingsbury Christian Church (7887 Poplar Avenue, Germantown, TN 38138). The program meets the requirements DHS sets forth for personal safety training and certificates of attendance will be available. To register, contact Su Hartline at 901-888-4337 or shartline@MemphisCAC.org.

How Does Maltreatment Affect Early Childhood Development?

Many abused children develop issues that impair their social, emotional and physical development- these issues manifest early in life and can continue throughout the lifetime. Hostility, elevated sexualization, and other delinquent behaviors commonly observed in maltreatment victims, combined with diminished concentration, lead to higher school dropout and retention levels for abused children when compared to nonabused children. When children experience sexual maltreatment, they are more likely to have an elevated number of sexual relationships and, accordingly, an increased likelihood of contracting a sexually transmitted disease or becoming pregnant unintentionally. Notably, the rate of teen pregnancy among sexually abused girls is approximately 4 times higher than non-abused girls (Putnam, 2006).

Fast facts (Zero To Three, 2009):

- Children from birth to 36 months of age are consistently the age group most likely to be victims of maltreatment. Infants and toddlers account for almost 30 percent of child abuse and neglect victims.

- Infants (under 12 months of age) are at greatest risk of maltreatment.

- The maltreatment rate for 2002 was 12.3 per 1,000 children (USDHHS, 2004). However, child welfare researchers suggest that actual incidences are much higher than recorded. A primary reason for this is that some less easily identifiable and sensitive cases of maltreatment, such as sexual abuse, are underreported.

Local Resources Designed To Prevent Maltreatment and Assist Victims

Child maltreatment prevention and intervention can help to decrease rates of abuse and neglect. Additionally, these programs are cost-effective, saving a minimum of three dollars for every dollar dedicated to program operations (Karoly et al., 1998).

The Memphis community is fortunate to have a city-based agency dedicated to providing for children who are victims of maltreatment. The mission of the Memphis Child Advocacy Center (CAC) is to serve children who are victims of sexual abuse and severe physical abuse through prevention, education and intervention. The Memphis CAC vision is a community where children are safe, families are strong, and victims become children again.

For more information on the well-being of children in Memphis and Shelby County, please visit The Urban Child Institute at http://www.theurbanchildinstitute.org/Home.


Karoly, L., Greenwood, P., Everingham, S., Houe, J., Kilburn, M., & Rydell, C. (1998). Investing in our children: What we know and don’t know about the costs and benefits of early childhood
Interventions. Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation.

Putnam, F.W. (2006). The impact of trauma on child development. Juvenile and Family Court Journal, 57, (1), 1-12.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration on Children, Youth, and Families. Child maltreatment 2004. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Zero To Three. (2009). Facts about abuse and neglect of infants and toddlers. Washington, DC: Zero To Three.