Child Abuse Impacts Brain Development

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has published an extensive new report on child abuse and neglect. Below is a summarized version of some of the report’s findings…

Elevated Risk Environments

The study highlights factors that create an “elevated risk” for child abuse and neglect to occur. Factors with the strongest support in scientific research and literature include: substance abuse, family history of child abuse and/or neglect, and depression. The study recognizes that other factors may also be associated with child abuse and neglect.

Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect

Abuse and neglect actually affects the way a child’s brain develops, therefore, creating lifelong consequences.

“Childhood abuse and neglect have a profound and often lasting impact that can encompass psychological and physical health, neurobiological development, relational skills, and risk behaviors.”

imagesCAX00XFR

Photo courtesy of the Child Advocacy Center of Galveston County

Scientific studies show that abuse and neglect affects the development of the “amygdala, a structure in the brain that is critically involved in emotion.” In addition, “a number of studies suggest that abuse and neglect are associated with functional changes in the prefrontal cortex and associated brain regions, often affecting inhibitory control.”

Children who suffer abuse and/or neglect are more likely to exhibit: deficits in executive functioning and behavioral regulation, academic problems, emotional processing deficits, attachment disorders, an inability to regulate their emotions when interacting with others, problematic peer relations, dissociation, post traumatic stress disorder, stunted growth, obesity, and heightened anxiety. This results in a high percentage of victims as they age to be institutionalized, struggle with various addictions, attempt suicide, and engage in sexual activity at earlier ages.

Hope through Early Intervention and Treatment

Early interventions and treatment can effectively work to reverse the negative effects. In a recent Washington Post Article, Mary Dozier, NAS report committee member and University of Delaware chairman of child development, stated that,

“the effects seen on abused children’s brain and behavioral development are not static. If we can intervene and change a child’s environment, we actually see plasticity in the brain. So, we see negative changes when a child is abused, but we also see positive brain changes when the abuse ends and they are more supported. Interventions can be very effective.”

Armed Teachers in Schools – Helpful or Harmful?

ArmedTeachersDuring the past year, twenty states have enacted new school safety legislation allowing armed security officers in schools, including elementary schools.  Additionally, various schools in Texas, Utah, Arkansas, Kansas, and South Dakota allow authorized teachers the option to carry firearms.  Further, the National Rifle Association recommends that all U.S. schools should have police or armed teachers and staff members trained to confront shooters.  The following list complied by the Huffington Post provides information on eighteen states that allow teachers or other adults to carry loaded firearms on school grounds:

  • Alabama:  Prohibits possessing a firearm on school grounds only if the carrier has ‘intent to do bodily harm.’
  • California:  Permits carrying a firearm on school grounds if a person has ‘the written permission of the school district superintendent, his or her designee, or equivalent school authority.’
  • Connecticut:  Permits carrying a firearm on school grounds if agreed to by school officials.
  • Hawaii:  Generally does not prohibit the carrying of guns in schools.
  • Idaho:  Permits carrying a firearm on school grounds ‘as an appropriate part of a program, an event, activity or other circumstance approved by the board of trustees or governing board.’
  • Iowa:  Permits carrying a firearm on school grounds if ‘a person has been specifically authorized by the school.’
  • Kentucky:  Permits carrying firearms on campus if the person has been ‘authorized to carry a firearm by the board of education.’
  • Massachusetts:  Permits carrying firearms on school grounds with the authorization of the school board or principal.
  • Mississippi:  Permits carrying firearms on campus in a ‘school-approved program conducted under the supervision of an adult whose supervision has been approved by the school authority.’
  • Montana:  Permits carrying firearms on school grounds with the permission of a school district’s trustees.
  • New Hampshire:  Does not have a law prohibiting non-students from possessing firearms on school grounds.
  • New Jersey:  Permits carrying firearms on school grounds with ‘the written authorization of the governing officer of the institution.’
  • New York:  Permits carrying firearms on school grounds with written authorization from the school.
  • Oregon:  Permits carrying guns on school grounds with authorization from the school board, or the ‘agency that controls the public building.’
  • Rhode Island:  Permits carrying firearms on school grounds with a state concealed weapons permit.
  • Texas:  Permits carrying firearms on campus with written authorization from the school.
  • Utah:  Permits carrying firearms on campus with the approval of the ‘responsible school administrator.’
  • Wyoming:  Does not have a general prohibition on the possession of firearms on school property, but bars concealed weapons with or without a permit.

Guns In Schools:  Firearms Already Allowed In 18 States With Few Restrictions, The Huffington Post, (Jan. 15, 2013, 5:00 pm EST, Updated: Jan. 15, 2013 5:09, pm EST), http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/01/15/guns-in-schools-firearms-_n_2482168.html.

However, several states have faced opposition to proposed legislation allowing schoolteachers to carry handguns.  Some parents have voiced concerns that teachers carrying guns will actually increase the number of school shootings.  Other individuals argue that it is law enforcement’s job to patrol safety in the classroom, and teachers carrying handguns will be distracted from their intended focus:  teaching students.  Lastly, some critics argue that teachers are role models for students and having them carry handguns encourages kids’ interest in guns.  As a result of the aforementioned concerns, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Oklahoma are no longer pursuing passage of the legislation.

Reactions to the issue of whether schoolteachers should be allowed to carry handguns have been sharply divided.  Should licensed school personnel be allowed to carry handguns to protect their students?  Or, does an answer to the issue depend on the facts occurring in each individual school; therefore, what is appropriate on one campus is inappropriate on another?  Should schools only allow armed security officers on campuses?  Or, should all guns be banned from schools?

New Texas Laws – School Citations for Class C Misdemeanors

some-texas-students-are-being-ticketed-and-sent-to-court-for-leaving-class-early-or-using-profanityDuring this past session, the Texas legislature enrolled several laws with the hope of significantly reducing the number of children charged with Class C Misdemeanors while at school (commonly referred to as student ticketing).  While these new laws seem to encourage schools to apply alternate methods for addressing student behavior, nothing actually prevents schools from continuing the practice of student ticketing. In other words, these new laws seem to be all BARK and NO BITE…

The new laws merely replace the word “citation” with the word “complaint.” School police officers cannot issue citations but can submit complaints. In a recent article, the Texas Tribune suggests that this will reduce the number of children charged, because the local prosecutor will have discretion “whether to charge the student with a Class C Misdemeanor” or not based on the complaint. This is misleading, because prosecutors always had complete discretion to charge or dismiss citations. Therefore, it is not clear how issuing complaints instead of citations will significantly reduce student ticketing.

To read the entire Texas Tribune article, click here: http://www.texastribune.org/2013/08/29/class-disruption-cases-head-principals-office-not-/

To read the new laws, click here: http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/tlodocs/83R/billtext/pdf/SB00393F.pdf#navpanes=0

Photo Courtesy of The Week.