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Extracts from the Journals relating to Children, Youth and Families - in the fields of health, substance abuse, education, psychology, science ...

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To push or not to push: How to help your child deal with the inevitable stresses of life 

Some kids acclimate quickly to new situations. They express excitement about meeting their new classmates at the start of the school year, jump right into the mix at birthday parties, and easily adapt if and when their regular routine is disrupted. For other kids, change is challenging. If your child fits into this latter category, you have a tougher job as a parent. Here are some tips for supporting the child who is behaviorally inhibited, struggles with transitions, and shies away in the face of new people and places.

Avoid avoidance

What do you do when your child backs out of a playdate the night before because he’s too scared to go to his friend’s house? As a mother, I know that it’s very tempting to call the other parent and cancel; but we know from research and experience that avoidance breeds more avoidance. By letting your child stay home, you would be telling him, “You can’t handle it.” Instead, I suggest gradually building up to the playdate by setting smaller goals and praising each step along the way. For example, you might sit down with your child and outline a “bravery chart” with smaller steps leading to the ultimate goal of the playdate; he could start with a playdate in your home, then in the friend’s home with you present, then a short one alone, etc.

Model calm

When your child is crying hysterically and shaking, it’s easy to get anxious, frustrated, angry, discouraged, embarrassed or all of the above. It’s even easier to lose it when you share some of your child’s anxieties (read: “maybe something bad will happen to him if I leave him there”). But in the face of uncertainty, kids look to their parents as guides, and they can be perceptive little buggers. Try to model calm and confidence through the tone and volume of your voice, your body language, and your facial expressions, even when you want to pull your own hair out. Think of a few things that are relaxing to you (breathing, counting, using self-validating thoughts like, “this is just my anxiety, my child is ok,” and imagining vacation scenes far, far away) and try them – repeatedly – until you find one that takes the edge off. When all else fails, faking it works too.

Refocus attention on approach (i.e., “brave”) behavior

It’s surprisingly easy to get stuck focusing on kids’ anxious behaviors and reassuring them in relation to their fears. Yet reassurance tends to just reinforce anxiety. Instead, it’s important to acknowledge the emotion and then refocus your attention and praise on brave behaviors or even small efforts toward brave behavior. For example, after acknowledging your child’s anxiety, try to shift the emphasis by saying something like, “It sounds like you are feeling really afraid of going to Sam’s house. What are two brave steps you could take to combat your fear?”

Seek help if the anxiety takes over

If your child’s anxiety seems to be pervading one or more areas, including school, relationships, or extracurricular activities, and has begun to interfere with his or her functioning, you should get help for your child from a professional.

By Kathryn D. Boger

15 February 2017

Kathryn D. Boger is program director of McLean Anxiety Mastery Program at McLean Hospital and an instructor in psychology in the Department of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.



Abuse accelerates puberty in children

While it has long been known that maltreatment can affect a child's psychological development, new Penn State research indicates that the stress of abuse can impact the physical growth and maturation of adolescents as well.

Jennie Noll, director of the Child Maltreatment Solutions Network and professor of human development and family studies, and Idan Shalev, assistant professor of biobehavioral health, found that young girls who are exposed to childhood sexual abuse are likely to physically mature and hit puberty at rates 8 to twelve months earlier than their non-abused peers. Their results were published recently in the Journal of Adolescent Health.

"Though a year's difference may seem trivial in the grand scheme of a life, this accelerated maturation has been linked to concerning consequences, including behavioral and mental health problems and reproductive cancers," said Noll.

The body is timed so that physical and developmental changes occur in tandem, assuring that as a child physically changes, they have adequate psychological growth to cope with mature contexts. "High-stress situations, such as childhood sexual abuse, can lead to increased stress hormones that jump-start puberty ahead of its standard biological timeline," Noll explained. "When physical maturation surpasses psychosocial growth in this way, the mismatch in timing is known as maladaptation."

In the past, there have been studies loosely linking sexual abuse to maladaptation and accelerated maturation, but the longitudinal work completed by Noll and her team has been the most conclusive and in-depth to date, beginning in 1987 and following subjects throughout each stage of puberty.

Controlling for race, ethnicity, family makeup, obesity, socioeconomic status and nonsexual traumatic experiences, the researchers compared the pubescent trajectories of 84 females with a sexual abuse history and 89 of their non-abused counterparts. Working closely with nurses and Child Protective Services, the subjects were tracked from pre-puberty to full maturity based on a system known as Tanner staging.

Tanner staging is a numeric index of ratings that corresponds with the physical progression of puberty. The study's researchers focused on breast and pubic hair development as two separate mile markers for pubescent change. Subjects were placed somewhere from one (prepubescent) to five (full maturity) on the Tanner index and their Tanner number and age were mapped out and recorded over time.

"We found that young women with sexual abuse histories were far more likely to transition into higher puberty stages an entire year before their non-abused counterparts when it came to pubic hair growth, and a full 8 months earlier in regards to breast development," Noll stated. "Due to increased exposure to estrogens over a longer period of time, premature physical development such as this has been linked to breast and ovarian cancers. Additionally, early puberty is seen as a potential contributor to increased rates of depression, substance abuse, sexual risk taking and teenage pregnancy."

The researchers believe they were able to accurately rule out other variables that may have aided in accelerated puberty, pinpointing child sexual abuse and the stress hormones associated with it as a cause for early maturation in young girls. Their findings add to the body of work highlighting the role of stress in puberty, and it is the hope that the research will lead to increased preventative care and psychosocial aid to young women facing the effects of early maturation.

28 March 2017



Teaching children to be more in tune with their minds

Do you talk with your children about their feelings, thoughts and memories?

Research suggests that by reflecting on this kind of inner experience, parents can help children develop important skills that allow them to be more in tune with their minds and the minds of others.

If a 3-year-old falls off her tricycle, for example, a parent can respond by saying, “Get up,” and simply help the child off the ground and back onto the tricycle. Another parent might lean down and say, “Oh that must have been scary to fall off your trike! Let me help you up.” It sounds simple, but the second response includes reflections on the inner experience (being scared), not just on external action (getting up). Such communication can be called “reflective dialogues” and includes putting words to the inner nature of the mind. This “languaging” of the mind, in many ways, makes the inner life of the private mind something that can be shared. As Helen Keller, who was deaf and blind, said in her autobiography, the moment she could share language with her teacher Anne Sullivan, she felt her mind was born.

In addition to providing the words to talk about mental activities, such interactions show the child that the parent places importance on sensing the mind of the child. The inner subjective experience of the mind – meanings, felt textures, emotional waves, thought patterns and images pictured in the mind’s eye – are now shared. These inner experiences become more distinct in the sharing, and – in some ways – more “real” as a result of talking about them. Teach your child to SIFT through her mind and the mind of others by focusing on sensations (S), images (I), feelings (F) and thoughts (T).

One important outcome of naming the inner mental sea and then sharing it is that the mind becomes, in a sense, observable. We presume that everyone has a mind, but not everyone has what I call “mindsight,” or the ability to see one’s own mind or another’s mind. How can this be? You can have sensation, images, feelings and thoughts, but not have the perceptual skills to see these as mental activities. You would simply be immersed in your mental life without the perspective needed to sense that life clearly.

Having the ability to perceive our minds and the minds’ of others is the foundation for emotional and social intelligence that enhances our lives. When we see our minds, for example, we have insight into how our emotions shape our thinking and our behavior. With mindsight, too, we can learn to sense how the inner mental life of another influences how that person behaves. With such mindsight skills, we can learn to problem-solve in our interactions with others in helpful ways. That’s emotional intelligence. Using these capacities to sense the inner mental lives of others, we learn to navigate through the maze of subtle and rapid social communications in a way that promotes prosocial behavior – or voluntarily doing things to help others – the foundation of social intelligence.

When I was in medical school, I had very bright professors who seemed to lack, or at least not use, mindsight skills. They might offer a patient a terminal diagnosis, say “I’m sorry,” and then leave the room. I’d tug on their white coat and ask why they didn’t talk to the patient about how he felt. “Why would I do that?” was the common response. I had learned in college on a suicide prevention service that when someone was in crisis, the way to compassionately keep hope alive was to connect with that person's internal experience. My professors in medicine had no idea what I was talking about, and it wouldn’t be until decades later that a study would reveal that even if you come in with a common cold, a brief empathic comment from your physician results in you having a more robust immune response and getting over your cold a day sooner. Empathy heals, in part, because it allows us to “feel felt” by another, to be joined with someone and become part of a larger whole.

Mindsight is the skill that enables children to have the ability to sense and respect the importance of their own mental lives and the inner mental lives of others. This is the basis for insight and empathy, and for kindness and compassion.

We learn to sense our minds and the minds of others through our relationships with others we’re closest to, like parents. As a parent, you can confer this important basis of social and emotional skills to your children by regularly engaging in the simple but profoundly effective practice of reflective and attuned communication. As you SIFT the mind with your child, you may find that you, too, begin to feel a deep sense of connection and belonging that we all long to have in our lives.

By Daniel J. Siegel

23 March 2017



Intervention that engages youth on ethnic, racial identity can enhance positive development

Developing an ethnic-racial identity is an important task for young people growing up in the United States. A new study examined the Identity Project, a mental-health promotion intervention that engages youth in exploring and resolving issues around their ethnic and racial identities. It found that the program helps promote key developmental constructs that can enhance the positive development of youth from a range of backgrounds.

The study, conducted at Arizona State University, appears in the journal Child Development.

Youth's ethnic-racial identities are informed by ethnic aspects of their ancestry and the racial groups to which they belong, as viewed in a social and historical context. Adolescents who do more to explore their ethnic-racial backgrounds and develop a clearer sense of what this aspect of identity means for their lives tend to adjust better, according to past research. These benefits have emerged with adolescents of various backgrounds, including Latino, African American, Asian American, Native American/American Indian, and European American youth. Because demographic projections suggest that White youth will not be a numerical ethnic-racial majority by 2020 and will make up only about a third of youth by 2060, ethnic-racial identity is important to consider among all youth.

The Identity Project was developed by Adriana J. Umaña-Taylor, professor of family and human development at Arizona State University, in collaboration with her postdoctoral fellow, Sara Douglass. It is a universal health-promotion program designed to provide adolescents with tools and strategies to explore their ethnic-racial backgrounds and develop a clearer understanding of what those backgrounds mean for their lives and how they can contribute to their self-concepts. The intervention is intended for all youth in middle adolescence, not targeted to youth who are at risk or have problematic behavior, and is for youth of any ethnic-racial background. Exploring and resolving ethnic-racial identity can lead adolescents to have a more cohesive and clear sense of their general identity, which can promote positive outcomes such as higher self-esteem, better mental health, and better adjustment academically.

This small-scale efficacy trial sought to determine whether the Identity Project intervention would boost adolescents' exploration and resolution of ethnic-racial identity. The study involved an ethnically and racially diverse group of 218 ninth graders from eight classrooms in a public high school in the Southwest United States who were randomly assigned to be part of the intervention or a control group; the students were also socioeconomically diverse. Students in the intervention classrooms received the Identity Project curriculum, which helps students understand and discuss their own ethnic-racial heritage, addresses within-group versus between-group differences, clarifies misconceptions about identifying with groups, and provides tools to explore their backgrounds. Students in the control group received a curriculum that exposed them to training and education options after high school. The intervention ran for 10 weeks.

When the study began, researchers saw no significant differences between adolescents in either group on their exploration or resolution of ethnic identity. Twelve weeks later, researchers surveyed youth and found that those in the intervention classrooms had increased their exploration of ethnic-racial identity significantly, while their counterparts in the control classrooms had not. These increases in exploration among the first group predicted a significantly higher likelihood that the adolescents would clarify issues related to their ethnic identity 18 weeks after the first survey; youth in the control group did not do so.

"The identity work that takes place during adolescence can set individuals on a positive developmental trajectory that can have long-term implications for their psychosocial adjustment into young adulthood," notes Umaña-Taylor, who led the study. "Exploring one's identity during adolescence may provide a foundation for better long-term adjustment as a function of increased self-reflection and understanding of how one fits into the world."

Source: Society for Research in Child Development

21 March 2017 

Journal Reference:

Adriana J. Umaña-Taylor et al. Ethnic-Racial Identity and Friendships in Early Adolescence. Child Development, March 2017 DOI: 10.1111/cdev.12790



Injury risk may rise when kids play just one sport

Focusing too much on playing one favorite sport probably isn't a good idea for kids under 12, researchers report.

That's because specializing in a single sport seems to increase a child's risk of injury, researchers say.

"Young athletes should participate in one competitive sport per season, and take at least three months off (non-consecutive) from competition per year," said the study's leader, Dr. Neeru Jayanthi. He's a physician with Emory Sports Medicine and an associate professor of orthopaedics and family medicine at Emory University in Atlanta.

For the study, Jayanthi's team assessed the risk of sports-related injuries among nearly 1,200 young athletes. After tracking their training schedules over the course of three years, the investigators found that nearly 40 percent of the athletes suffered an injury during the study period.

The findings also showed that injured athletes began specializing in one sport at an average age younger than 12 years. In addition, nearly two-thirds of these athletes in highly specialized sports sustained a repeat injury.

Athletes who didn't sustain injuries began to focus on one sport when they were older than 12, on average, according to the report.

"While different for each sport, determining a possible age of specialization, as well as other training factors, may help guide young athletes in reducing risk," Jayanthi said in an Emory news release.

Young athletes who had sports-related injuries during the study period tended to play more year-round sports, played more organized sports each week and were more specialized in specific sports than those who didn't have an injury, the researchers found.

The study authors advise young athletes to play more than one sport. In addition, they said, younger children shouldn't train more hours than their age each week.

The study was published online March 16 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The findings were also presented Thursday at the International Olympic Committee World Conference on Prevention of Injury and Illness in Sport, in Monaco.

By Mary Elizabeth Dallas

17 March 2017



Seven ways to teach your kids about money

1. Show them the money. It is never too early to teach your children about finances, especially as money can seem almost invisible to them at times. Internet banking, online shopping and card payments often mean some children hardly ever see notes and coins. If they do, it tends to be notes coming out of a cash machine, so start young and tell them that the bank is looking after the money you earn. Play shops not just with plastic toy coins, but with real cash.

2. Make saving fun early on. Giving pocket money from around age three can help children better understand the value of money, especially if you encourage them to save towards something they dearly want. A good way of encouraging saving at any age is to reward them, either by matching what they put aside or agreeing to put something towards it. If they pay for something with pocket money or birthday money, they know exactly what they are getting for their cash.

3. Count the cost. Talking about how you earn your money and how you then spend it is an excellent life skill at all ages, and helping with shopping is a great start. By the age of 10, they should be able to go into a shop and buy a snack or drink, and know exactly how to count out the money and the change they should receive. The next step is going on an errand to buy bread or milk, which is valuable at all ages, especially when you consider the number of teenagers who know exactly how much the latest phone or pair of trainers cost, but have no idea how much a pint of milk or an electricity bill is.

4. Teach them to budget. Start by always giving them pocket money on the same day. Once they are old enough, encourage them to write down what they spend so they know exactly where their money goes. There will definitely be some tricky moments when they spend the lot immediately and then start pestering for more, so agree from the start on what you will pay for and what they will pay for, depending on age. Don’t buckle under pressure, especially to start with, although as they get a bit older be prepared to provide the occasional loan that must be paid back on an agreed date.

5. Teenage traumas. Getting a first job is a financial rite of passage and often a horrible one, not least because teenagers often embrace it with such innocent enthusiasm. It is heartbreaking to watch their good cheer melt away as they are faced with less than minimum wages, long hours and grumpy customers and employers. However, this isn’t the moment to encourage them to give up so you can subsidise them. It’s the hardest way to learn the value of money – but it works far better than any parental chat. You should also resist the temptation to try to control what they spend their hard-earned cash on – they worked for it and, if it is splurged on something you consider highly frivolous, you can mildly advise but don’t expect instant agreement.

6. Family finance. Rather than just saying “We can’t afford it”, explain why. Talk to your children about all the different things that have to be paid for, including tax and national insurance, along with mortgage/rent, council tax, utility bills, insurance, phone and broadband and the weekly shop. Add costs for hobbies or club memberships, and give them a clear picture of the difference between a wage and disposable income once all the necessities are paid for, which will come as quite a surprise.

7. Skint students. If they head off to college, this is theoretically when all those years of training kick in and they leave with a full understanding of the value of money, how to save and the need to budget. In reality, the first instalment of a student loan will make the majority feel recklessly rich, and telling them they will probably graduate with a debt of more than £40,000 will mean absolutely nothing. Students tend to be hit on by loads of banks, so explain the difference between an interest-free overdraft and a credit card with 16% APR. It is a good time to start a reasonable credit rating as they take over their own mobile phone contracts and register on the electoral role.

By Joan McFadden

18 March 2017



South Africa: Bay schools to benefit from R37m veggie, fish scheme

What is sweet but fishy and decidedly green? It is candy giant Mondelez’s R37million aquaponics programme which it launched with partner Inmed at the NMMU Missionvale Campus in Port Elizabeth yesterday.

Government, university and business representatives, school principals and a group of excited pupils attended the launch of the Health in Action programme, which will benefit 100,000 pupils at 116 disadvantaged schools across the metro.

At centre stage was a new aquaponics facility which combines tilapia fish and veggie smart-farming using zero soil and 90% less water than traditional farming.

The facility comprised two greenhouse tunnels and the tilapia were spread through five tanks according to size and to allow for easy harvesting and continued research, Inmed South Africa operations manager Janet Ogilvy said.

The fingerlings take eight to 10 months to grow to an optimum 600g to 800g, at which point they are ready for harvesting. The best part is what happens to the fish waste.

Nutrient-rich water is syphoned off the bottom of the tank where the waste settles, and piped across to the other tunnel where an array of vegetables are planted in nine long beds.

The veggies are planted in gravel, not soil, but beneath this sterile-looking substrate the fish wastewater circulates, delivering abundant nutrition.

Because of this super-rich nutrient supply the vegetables could be planted closer together than in a traditional veggie garden, meaning a bigger crop, Ogilvy said.

“Each plant also grows 10% faster, so you can expect at least two extra harvests a year.”

With all the nutrients filtered out and absorbed by the vegetables, the remaining clean water was channelled back into the fish tanks, closing the loop in terms of energy and efficiency, she said.

“Besides the huge water saving, what electricity is needed to drive the water pump is generated via solar panels.

“And the beneficiaries of this great system are all the disadvantaged kids from the schools involved in Health in Action who will now be eating proper meals.”

Mondelez Africa chief executive Joost Vlaanderen said besides giving these children access to better nutrition, the programme also included education about healthy eating, opportunities for school and university research and promotion of a healthy lifestyle via the supply of sports equipment.

“So it’s holistic, which we believe is important,” Vlaanderen said.

Motherwell’s Enkwenkwezini Primary School principal, Nomphumelelo Yako, said she was thrilled with the programme. “The kids are amazed you can harvest from gravel but they will take note and spread the gospel of fresh harvest,” she said. “The food will keep them healthy and grow their brains bigger.”

By Guy Rogers

10 March 2017




Child welfare involvement linked to increased severity of punishment for youth, study finds

Among youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system, researchers determined that those who were also involved with the child welfare system were as much as 11 times more likely to be placed in a group home over those with no child welfare involvement.

Utilizing Los Angeles County administrative data, a study titled “Juvenile justice sentencing: Do gender and child welfare involvement matter?” and published in the Children and Youth Services Review examined linkages between gender, child welfare involvement and harsh juvenile justice sentencing.

Released in May of 2016, the study found that the sex of a child and whether they were placed in foster care impacts the sentence they receive if they are caught up in the juvenile justice system. By maintaining types of crimes committed as a control in the study, researchers were able to determine that girls and children involved in the child welfare system were more likely to be sentenced to a juvenile justice group home placement rather than probation compared to boys and children not child welfare-involved.

As numerous other studies have demonstrated, the consequence of being placed in a juvenile facility, even if not a hall or camp with locked doors, can last a lifetime. This study is especially pertinent as it comes at a time when the state of California is trying to reduce its reliance on group homes through new reform measures taking effect this year.

“When youth are shuffled further into the system (i.e., sentenced to an out-of-home placement), they are more likely to recidivate, have lower educational and vocational attainment, and to experience a host of additional negative consequences,” the study reads.

Of the 1.2 million minors sent to juvenile court annually in Los Angeles, 7.8 percent are faced with “out-of-home” placements. Though the research indicates a variety of potential sources for the discrepancies found in the severity of punishments, the study’s methodology pointed to a clear trend: girls and children on welfare are more likely to be placed in out-of-home facilities than their counterparts, respectively; however, there was no significant data linking the two characteristics.

The study examined a cross-section of juveniles, aged 12 to 17, who were arrested for the first time in Los Angeles County in 2008 and had received a final settlement, or court order. According to the results, the majority of youths were sentenced to probation, the least severe form of punishment. The second largest sentencing was to a group home placement (out-of-home), considered the most severe, and the smallest group was dismissed.

Finally, these numbers were considered against the independent variables of gender and child-welfare status. The study determined that females held a 56 percent greater risk of being sentenced to a group home placement over time on probation compared to males, though they were less likely to be sentenced to corrections, and child welfare youth had an 88 percent greater risk of out-of-home placement than non-child-welfare youth.

Some possible explanations given by researchers for these significant findings included the ideology that females need protection and that by removing them from a malignant home life, a judge felt they were in fact helping the child. Further, child welfare-involved youth were more likely to be from poorer communities and, therefore, subjected to worse living conditions and potential for crime, and thus needed to be removed from the cycle, the researchers said.

However, Jonathan McNeil of the Division of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) notes that only a small percentage, roughly one in ten youths under the age of 21 who end up in front of the DJJ, a sect for especially violent crimes, actually finds themselves assigned to out-of-home placements.

McNeil goes on to explain that “it’s almost always at the discretion of the judge and the child’s risk to the community.” More often than not, those committing the most serious crimes are sentenced to jail time, paroled and then offered rehabilitation services, according to McNeil.

Especially pertinent in light of recent California legislation, Assembly Bill 403, which took effect this past January and calls for an end to traditional group homes in favor of more rehabilitation-centered practices, the authors argue out-of-home placement can have detrimental effects on a youth’s future well-being and may actually fuel the cycle of crime and poverty even after the first arrest.

By Jenna Dresner

12 March 2017



Girls in care more negative about their future than boys

Girls who are in care feel the stigma of their situation more keenly than boys, are much more likely to worry about their appearance and less likely to enjoy school, a study has revealed.

The study found that girls aged 11-18 in care were less likely to say life was worthwhile and were more negative about the future than boys.

Both boys and girls in care expressed concern at how often the professionals who look after them move on with almost a third of 11-18-year-olds reporting they were allocated three or more different social workers within a year.

Half of younger children, aged four to seven, and more than a quarter of teenagers did not fully understand why they were in care, according to the study 'Our Lives Our Care' from the University of Bristol’s Hadley Centre for Adoption and Foster Care Studies and the children’s rights charity Coram Voice.

Its aim was to find out how the 70,000 looked after children in England alone viewed their lives.

While the Department for Education publishes “outcome” data on looked after children’s education, offending, mental health, and number of teenage pregnancies, there is no information collected on how children themselves feel about their well-being and their lives in care.

The study found some positives, with 80% of the 611 children from six local authority areas who took part in the study reporting that being in care had improved their lives. More than 90% said they trusted their carers.

But girls were less positive than boys. While the rate of looked after boys who expressed unhappiness at their lives was around the same as boys in the general population, almost a quarter of girls in care reported dissatisfaction compared with 14% for all girls.

Girls were more likely to comment on how being in care made them feel different. One girl, who was in the 11-18 age bracket, said she wanted to be: “A normal child. Not having to get permission to go on school trips, holidays and staying at friends’ houses.” Twenty three per cent of girls said they were unhappy with their appearance – against 14% in the general population.

Not knowing exactly why they are in care was flagged up by many. One young person (11-18 years) wrote: “I would like someone to talk to about my feelings and tell me about my past. I would like to see a picture of my dad so I know what he looks like. I would like to see a picture of me as a baby. I have never seen a picture of me. I have a lot of questions that no one answers.”

Children highlighted the importance of having a trusted adult in their lives. But nearly a third of those aged 11-18 reported that they had been allocated three or more different social workers in the year. One young person’s response to a question asking “What would make care better?” wrote: “By not having 14 social workers in three years.”

Julie Selwyn, director of the Hadley Centre and lead author of the study, said: “The results raise important questions about the difference in caring for girls and boys and supports the need for a more ‘gender aware’ approach to be taken. The findings highlight the need for more continuity of social workers and show that efforts to support children in care are having positive outcomes.”

Carol Homden, chief executive officer of Coram said: “It is incredibly heartening that such large majority of looked after children feel that their lives have improved since coming into care and this is a testimony to the commitment of many local authorities to the children for whom they are the ‘corporate parent’.

“However there is still much that we all need to do to improve the wellbeing and life chances of looked after children and ensure they have the support and reassurance they need to successfully make their way in the world.”

By Steven Morris

7 March 2017



How to keep your children from learning stereotypes

How can modern parents raise the next generation to be free from corrosive gender and racial stereotypes? By the time children start elementary school, gender and race shape their lives in many ways that parents might want to prevent. As early as first grade, girls are less likely than boys to think members of their own gender are “really, really smart.” And by just age three, white children in the United States implicitly endorse stereotypes that African-American faces are angrier than white faces.

These stereotypes go deeper than children’s beliefs – they can also shape a child’s behavior. By age six, girls are less likely than boys to choose activities that seem to require them to be really smart, which could contribute to the development of long-term gender differences in science and math achievement.

Why do stereotypes develop in such young children? As a professor of early cognitive and social development, I have seen my research reveal how surprisingly subtle features of language contribute to a child’s tendency to view the world through the lens of social stereotypes.

The problem of generalization

Many parents try to prevent the development of stereotypes in children by avoiding saying things like, “boys are good at math,” or “girls cannot be leaders.” Instead, parents might take care to say things that are positive, like “girls can be anything they want.”

But our research has found that, to the developing mind, even these positive statements can have negative consequences.

For young children, how we speak is often more important than what we say. Generalizations, even if they say only things that are positive or neutral, such as “Girls can be anything they want,” “Hispanics live in the Bronx” or “Muslims eat different foods,” communicate that we can tell what someone is like just by knowing her gender, ethnicity or religion.

In our research, published in Child Development, we found that hearing generalizations led children as young as two years old to assume that groups mark stable and important differences between individual people.

In this study, children were introduced to a new, made-up way of categorizing people: “Zarpies.” If they only heard statements about specific individuals, (e.g., “These Zarpies whisper when they talk”), children continued to treat the people as individuals, even though they were all marked by the same label and wore similar clothes. But if they heard the same information as a generalization (e.g., “Zarpies whisper when they talk”), they started to think that “Zarpies” are very different from everyone else. Hearing generalizations led children to think that being a member of the group determined what the members would be like.

In another recent study, we found that hearing these types of generalizations – even if none of them was negative – led five-year-old children to share fewer resources (in this case, colorful stickers) with members outside their own social group.

These findings show that hearing generalizations, even positive or neutral ones, contributes to the tendency to view the world through the lens of social stereotypes. It is the form of the sentence, not exactly what it says, that matters to young children.

From groups to individuals

Our research means that generalizations are problematic even if children do not understand them.

If a young child overhears, “Muslims are terrorists,” the child might not know what it means to be a Muslim or a terrorist. But the child can still learn something problematic – that Muslims, whoever they are, are a distinct kind of person. That it is possible to make assumptions about what someone is like just by knowing if they are Muslim or not.

Language that uses specifics – instead of making general claims – avoids these problems. Sentences like, “Her family is Hispanic and lives in the Bronx,” “This Muslim family eats different foods,” “Those girls are great at math,” “You can be anything you want,” all avoid making general claims about groups.

Using specific language can also teach children to challenge their own and others’ generalizations. My three-year-old recently announced that “Boys play guitar,” despite knowing many female guitar players. This troubled me, not because it matters very much what he thinks about guitar playing, but because this way of talking means that he is starting to think that gender determines what a person can do.

But there is a very easy and natural way to respond to statements like these, which our research suggests reduces stereotyping. Simply say, “Oh? Who are you thinking of? Who did you see play the guitar?” Children usually have someone in mind. “Yes, that man at the restaurant played the guitar tonight. And yes, so does Grandpa.” This response guides children to think in terms of individuals, instead of groups.

This approach works for more sensitive generalizations too – things a child might say, like “Big boys are mean,” or “Muslims wear funny clothes.” Parents can ask children who they are thinking of and discuss whatever specific incident they have in mind. Sometimes children speak this way because they are testing out whether drawing a generalization is sensible. By bringing them back to the specific incident, we communicate to them that it is not.

Every interaction counts

How much can this small change in language really matter? Parents, teachers and other caring adults cannot control everything that children hear, and exposure to explicitly racist, sexist or xenophobic ideas can also influence a child’s view of societal norms and values.

But children develop their sense of the world through minute-by-minute conversations with important adults in their lives. These adults have powerful platforms with their children. As parents and caregivers, we can use our language carefully to help children learn to view themselves and others as individuals, free to choose their own paths. With our language, we can help children develop habits of mind that challenge, rather than endorse, stereotyped views of the people around us.

By Marjorie Rhodes
New York University

18 February 2017



Preventing, treating smoking in children and youth

A first-ever guideline from the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care on tobacco use by children and youth aged 5 to 18 years recommends that physicians should play a more active role in the prevention and treatment of cigarette smoking in this age group. The guidelines were published in CMAJ (Canadian Medical Association Journal).

In Canadian children and youth between grades 6 and 12, 18% have tried cigarettes, with 3% of children in grade 6 and up to 36% in grade 12. Smoking in adulthood is linked to trying cigarettes as children or youth, with almost 90% of adult smokers having tried cigarettes by age 18.

"Advice from primary care physicians and allied health care professionals is just one tool in the tool kit that society can use in the prevention and treatment of smoking, but it is a crucial tool for helping to reduce and prevent cigarette use among youth," said Dr. Brett Thombs, chair-elect of the task force and chair of the guideline working group. "We have no doubt that doctors can work effectively alongside governments, parents and schools to educate children and youth on the harmful effects of smoking. However, we still need more research to identify the most effective ways for them to do this."

The task force recommends that physicians should ask children and youth (aged 5-18 years) and/or their parents about tobacco use by the child or youth and offer brief information and advice as appropriate during primary care visits to prevent or treat tobacco smoking.

The guideline was developed by the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Care, an independent body of primary care and prevention experts who evaluated the strength and quality of evidence from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) of behavioural interventions (e.g., information and counselling) applicable to primary care settings.

27 February 2017



Parental satisfaction at work may reduce potential for child abuse or neglect 

While parental unemployment is a known risk factor for child abuse and neglect, a new study finds that a parent’s satisfaction in the workplace may play an even more important role.

The findings, published this January in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, are based on a study of mothers referred by Child Protective Services to a treatment program for child neglect and substance abuse. To gauge a parent’s risk of being reported for child abuse researchers used an assessment tool called the Child Abuse Potential Inventory (CAPI).

Of the 72 participants, those who reported greater employment satisfaction scored lower on the CAPI and were less likely to fail a drug test or report drug use. Employment satisfaction proved the most significant employment-related determinate of abuse – more significant than income or number of days employed.

The study concludes that meaningful interventions in child maltreatment should not only help parents find work, but also focus on modifying attitudes and teaching behaviors that help parents derive more satisfaction from their work.

In Los Angeles, the Department of Child and Family Services (DCFS) may refer a parent reported for child maltreatment to a variety of training and rehabilitation programs. While some do provide the comprehensive training and support that leads to meaningful employment, families encounter unequal access to these services.

“Meeting DCFS requirements can be difficult for our clients, we aim to meet most of their needs but do not currently offer employment services,” said Casey Spicer, a caseworker with the Westside Children’s Center in Culver City. In some cases, compliance requires parents to participate in multiple programs – operated by multiple providers with no guarantee of receiving employment services.

Wende Nichols-Julien, CEO of Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) Los Angeles, says because the county lacks a formal procedure for connecting families to services, the responsibility falls on case managers to determine the level of engagement with community providers. As a result, “People are falling through the cracks and failing to get the services they deserve,” Nichols-Julien said.

Last month, in an effort to expand meaningful work opportunities, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a temporary services registry pilot project. Proposed by supervisors Hilda Solis and Janice Hahn, the registry will connect residents facing barriers to employment to temporary clerical jobs in county departments. The pilot requires 51 percent of program participants to be “target workers“; this includes custodial single parents, residents with criminal backgrounds and current or former foster youth.

The registry will be piloted in county departments which serve the target population: the Departments of Public Social Services, Children and Family Services, Mental Health, and Child Support Services. The Board of Supervisors hopes the registry will provide valuable work experience and a path to long-term employment with the county or elsewhere.

The 24-month pilot project is set to begin in April of this year. After two years it will be evaluated based on the rate of participant retention and level of career advancement.

By Gabrielle Tilley

3 March 2017



Study finds new link between childhood abuse and adolescent misbehavior

An important learning process is impaired in adolescents who were abused as children, a University of Pittsburgh researcher has found, and this impairment contributes to misbehavior patterns later in life.

Associative learning – the process by which an individual subconsciously links experiences and stimuli together – partially explains how people generally react to various real-world situations. In a newly released study, published in the Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, Pitt Assistant Professor Jamie L. Hanson detailed the connection between impaired associative learning capacities and instances of early childhood abuse.

"We primarily found that a poorer sense of associative learning negatively influences a child's behavior patterns during complex and fast-changing situations. Having this knowledge is important for child psychologists, social workers, public policy officials and other professionals who are actively working to develop interventions," said Hanson, who teaches in Pitt's Department of Psychology within the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences with a secondary appointment in the University's Learning Research and Development Center. "We have long known that there is a link between behavioral issues in adolescents and various forms of early life adversities. Yet, the connection isn't always clear or straightforward. This study provides further insight into one of the many factors of how this complicated relationship comes to exist."

To uncover these relationships, researchers asked 81 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17 to play computer games where the child had to figure out which set of visual cues were associated with a reward. Forty-one participants had endured physical abuse at a young age, while the remaining 40 served as a comparison group. The most important aspect of the test, said Hanson, was that the cues were probabilistic, meaning children did not always receive positive feedback.

"The participants who had been exposed to early childhood abuse were less able than their peers to correctly learn which stimuli were likely to result in reward, even after repeated feedback," said Hanson. "In life we are often given mixed or little to no feedback from our significant others, bosses, parents and other important people in our lives. We have to be able to figure out what might be the best thing to do next."

Hanson and his colleagues also observed that mistreated children were generally less adept at differentiating which behaviors would lead to the best results for them personally when interacting with others. Additionally, abused children displayed more pessimism about the likelihood of positive outcomes compared to the group who hadn't been abused. Taken as a whole, these findings clarify the relationship between physical abuse and the aggressive and disruptive behaviors that often plague abused children well into the later stages of childhood.

28 February 2017



Three concussion myths: Busted

Concussions are among the most common – and potentially dangerous – injuries seen in sports medicine. Part of the danger surrounding them is the abundance of misinformation spread by word of mouth among the athletic population, plus false information that’s readily available and shared on the Internet. Education is the best shield to protect from what can be lasting and lingering effects of suffering a concussion without seeking proper treatment, or even simply recognizing that someone has suffered this type of head injury in the first place. So with all the information out there about concussion and brain injuries, how do you know exactly what to believe and what not to believe? The best place to turn is to a knowledgeable, qualified and experienced sports neurologist. This is a specialized type of neurologic physician who can give factual answers that the public, athletes and parents of young athletes need. Let’s start right here with three of the most common concussion myths and the truths to bust them.

Myth: Concussion is only possible from a direct blow to the head.

Truth: It's true that many concussions are caused by a single direct impact to the head, such as a soccer ball to the head (often referred to as a “header” or “heading the ball”) or a hard fall in which the head makes contact with the ground (hard football tackles, for example). But you may be surprised to learn that concussions can occur even if the head doesn’t make contact with the ground or another hard surface. Any activity that simply rattles the brain inside the skull is enough to cause a concussion. When the head or even the upper body is shaken with enough force, the brain can be put into motion, causing it to be slammed into the inside of the skull. This type of pressure on the brain has the same effects as an actual blow to the head and can be the result of many causes – from car accidents to being violently shaken. Don’t make the mistake of putting a potential head injury on the backburner just because there was no direct head contact. Get to know the signs and symptoms of a concussion, and be sure to check for those, whether there was a blow to the head or not.

Myth: Consciousness must be lost for a concussion to be "serious."

Truth: The intensity of a concussion is in no way related to whether the person affected “blacks out” or “passes out” at the time of the injury. The truth is, some people who sustain a concussion will lose consciousness and some will not, but both can undergo the same exact injury inside the brain. In fact, most people who suffer a concussion don’t pass out. Due to the brain’s vast complexity, no two injuries are alike, and some side effects show up sooner than others. The biggest danger in the wide variation of concussion symptoms experienced from person to person is sustaining a concussion and not knowing it. If you were expecting a loss of consciousness and never experienced one, you may automatically assume no concussion took place and not seek medical treatment when it's needed. That can lead to life-threatening consequences. To avoid this mistake, treat every head injury with the same amount of urgency and concern, whether or not there is a loss of consciousness associated with it.

Myth: “Rest is best” is a good concussion treatment.

Truth: Traditionally, cognitive and physical rest have been the treatment of choice for recovering and restoring the brain after a concussion. Though cognitive rest (taking time off school or work to let the brain rest) continues to be linked to a speedier recovery, absolute physical rest has been recently studied and associated with a potential delay in recovery post-concussion. Gradual, moderate exercise resumed within the first week post-concussion can actually help restore the brain’s functioning and reduce the risk of continued symptoms further down the road. On the contrary, too much rest may even lead to secondary symptoms like depression, anxiety and social isolation, which will only add to the length of the recovery period. Though you should always remain cautious after a concussion and listen to what your body (and doctor!) is telling you, don’t be afraid to get out there and (gently) get yourself moving a bit.

Of course, while concussion education is vitally important, no amount of printed or Internet resources should take the place of medical guidance from a neurological professional with expertise in the prevention, treatment and management of concussion. If you or someone you care about is involved in sports that include concussion as a possible injury risk, be sure you’ve also got a physician expert available to assess a concussion should it arise – before it does.

By Vernon Williams M.D.

27 February 2017


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