By Eric L. Steckel
Does poverty impact the brain? A recent study indicates that, yes, it does.
In a recent article published in JAMA Pediatrics, scientific research supports what we’ve long understood. There is “tangible, detrimental effects of growing up in poverty on brain development and related academic outcomes in childhood.” Conditions of poverty lead to a smaller frontal and temporal lobe, which can translate to 15% to 20% of the deficits found in cognitive and academic performance.
At Catholic Charities, we’ve long understood that poverty can impact behavior in young and old alike. If a child or adult is living in poverty, and suffers pangs of hunger, their focus will be on hunger. They may even experience malnutrition or childhood obesity due to inadequate diet. If they are experiencing violence on a daily basis – trauma – their body and mind are in constant fear. They will react in similar ways to soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress.
Parents have the responsibility to meet the basic needs for children. When they can’t, it leads to stress on the adults. That stress in turn is shared or passed down to the child. The result is that neither adult nor child can concentrate on basic tasks.
Agencies like Catholic Charities of the East Bay help to connect families to services that meet some of those basic needs. We provide overall support to children and their families, offering a ray of hope. They are not alone. There is hope for a better future, and we see it in the families that we serve in programs like Family Literacy, which provides adult education classes, Critical Family Needs, which provides rental and utilities assistance, and Family to Family, a parish-based ministry that provides support to local families.
It’s no coincidence that Catholic Charities’ goal is “Moving youth and families from crisis to stability to prosperity.” We strive to provide services that break the chain of poverty, so that youth and families have the same opportunities as those higher up on the socio-economic ladder.