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Bigotry And Stress Hurts Melanated Children Growing Up Poor

More money, more problems. Yellow tape and street corner memorials. Since the early 80s, children have become the victims of daily homicides, drug epidemics and broken public school system. Economists and civil rights advocates have studied and debated economic inequality and median income disparity in America, often attributing the root causes to class, residential segregation, parental guidance and home training. Many watch nightly news and

contribute the robberies to high end stores in affluent communities to thugs and break down in law and order. Never giving one thought to “Stress” that many teenagers and adults are plagued with after witnessing frightening or threatening events or conditions. When severe, these changes are termed “toxic” stress and can impede children’s behavior, cognitive capacity, and emotional and physical health. An extensive study conducted by The Equality of Opportunity Project, analyzed racial differences in economic opportunity using data on 20 million children and their parents across generations, shedding light on a stark reality that melanated people have always known to be true, that race, and racism have always been determining factors in how opportunity is distributed in America. Findings in the study show that melanated boys, even ones raised in wealthy families, living in the most well-to-do neighborhoods have always earned less than their caucasian counterparts in adulthood. To put it simply, melanated boys have always had much lower rates of upward mobility than caucasian children, which has contributed to generations of melanated-caucasian income disparity. One of the prominent reasons given for income disparity is the difference in the neighborhoods they grow up in. The study, however, found that disparities persist even among melanated and caucasian children who grow up on the same block. Growing up in either Detroit or Bel Air won’t have any significant impact on the income mobility of melanated boys as they grow into adulthood, they continue to make less than their caucasian counterparts. The stakes become even higher for children exposed to frightening or threatening situations daily, who also have less access to protective resources that can mitigate their stress to tolerable levels. Examine the level of toxic stress attributed to systemic racism and social class, and how it depresses children’s outcomes and contributes to the “achievement gap.”

Ultimately, larger social change is needed to address the economic and social conditions at the root of children’s toxic stress. But given that these larger social problems will not be remediated easily or quickly, policymakers must find other ways to improve current outcomes for children who are at high risk for toxic stress. Melanated children who move to better areas with low poverty rates, low racial bias, and higher father presence earlier in their childhood have higher incomes and lower rates of incarceration by the time they reach adulthood—demonstrating the effects of growing up in a bad neighborhood. The challenge is that very few melanated children currently grow up in environments that foster upward mobility, the study found. We suggest the following interventions in policy and practice. 1. Promote protective parenting—which can mitigate children’s toxic stress—we recommend implementation of support programs such as home visits and/or therapy services by community health workers, nurses, and other health specialists. These programs can offset the damaging effects of exposure to frightening or threatening conditions by building the capacity of caregivers to provide children with safe, stable, and nurturing relationships that help to develop children’s adaptive and positive coping skills. 2. Prepare trauma-informed staff and improve how preschools and schools support children exposed to frightening or threatening experiences, adults in these settings should receive training to help them understand how such experiences affect students’ learning and behavior. 3. Schools should be especially careful to eliminate in-school experiences that can be so stressful that they themselves can generate a toxic stress response. Racially discriminatory discipline policies—indeed, racially disparate treatment of any kind, even if unintentional—can induce stress in children. 4. Health care professionals can contribute to preventing and treating the harmful effects of frightening or threatening experiences. All children should be routinely screened for such experiences. Health care professionals should be trained to understand how frightening or threatening experiences impact children’s cognitive, behavioral, and physical health outcomes, and screen and treat children for any resulting complications.

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