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Study links poverty and poor child brain development

On Behalf of | Oct 29, 2013 | Supplemental Security Income (SSI)

The government recognizes that limited income can have a detrimental effect on the well-being of individuals. The response taken to that reality has been the creation of benefit programs such as Supplemental Security Income through the Social Security Administration.

As the official SSA website notes, Supplemental Security Income is a benefit granted to individuals of low income and resources who are deemed disabled or who are 65 or over. It is also available for blind or disabled children. It can be difficult to obtain SSI benefits for children, which is one reason getting an attorney’s help is advised. And now there’s a new study that raises what might be described as a “chicken and egg” issue in terms of assessing childhood disability.

The findings, published in JAMA Pediatrics, suggest that poverty can lead to poor brain development in children, which in turn can lead to learning disabilities, mental disabilities, and poor stress coping skills; all of which can lead to lifelong problems. But, while poverty conditions were identified as a significant factor, the researchers said a more significant issue may be how poverty translates into reductions in essential parenting or nurturing skills on the part of caregivers.

To conduct the research, scientists at Missouri’s Washington University School of Medicine studied MRI brain scan results of 145 children between the ages of 6 and 12. All the subjects were part of a Preschool Depression Study. Their poverty status was gauged by comparing the size of the family they were from and the family’s annual income with federal poverty guidelines. The researchers gauged parental nurturing skills by creating situations that tested the patience of parent and child and then monitored what happened.

What the MRIs showed was that children in poverty, and whose caregivers lacked nurturing skills, were likely to have less of the brain matter associated with intelligence and efficient functionality. Two critical internal brain structures, the hippocampus and the amygdala, tended to be undersized.

But the research also suggests that better parenting may overcome the general effects of poverty. So the authors conclude that to avoid potential long-term disabilities in children, public health interventions should be focused on boosting nurturing skills in parents.

Source:, “Childhood poverty ‘affects brain development’,” Honor Whiteman, Oct. 29, 2013

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