My scientist husband directed my attention two weeks ago to an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education (Feb. 29, 2008, “Researchers Probe How Poverty Harms Children’s Brains”). In it, the author interviews neuroscientists studying the impact of poverty on the neurological development of children living with poverty. Their primary findings – that poverty (aside from hunger/malnutrition) appears to affect a child’s brain development in ways we don’t quite understand yet – are both intriguing and yet somewhat of a – pardon the pun – no brainer. Poverty is complicated and complex. To think that we could easily categorize the impact of childhood poverty is to underestimate this multi-faceted problem. This research also questions the slippery integration of poverty, literacy, family stress and other socio-economic factors and their combined impact on a child’s brain development. “Growing up poor is bad for your brain” one researcher summarizes in the article – and I’m not sure we really needed research to acknowledge that fact.
In the end, it’s just one more reminder that children are often the most vulnerable in environments of hunger and poverty. When hunger, poverty, racism, and family systems are interwoven, we’re left with complex situations that require – that deserve – our focused attention and smartest thinking… in our schools, in our public policy, in our congregations and in our community services. The solution to hunger and poverty will never be just one thing (food assistance, welfare, school lunches) but an interweaving of many different strategies.
There’s a lot of talk about the economy these days… but what would be a better long-term investment than in strategies that could promote healthier brain development of our children? Now that’s a no-brainer….