17 July, 2010

Jesus loves the little children, and so should we.

I was at a kid's programme this week in a fairly poor area of Melbourne, and I noticed a couple of things. One, they are wonderful creations of God, and deserve the best that God has for them. Two, they are unlikely to reach that 'best' unless a whole lot of support is given, and a bunch of structures are put in place to overcome the disadvantage already present. That may seem prescriptive and pessimistic, and that is not my intention.

My aim is only to alert us to the fact that we have a responisibility to act now. We must do what we can to increase the skills and experiences of children. We must take time to tutor, and inspire, and engage and feed, and clean, and babysit, and listen to them read. We must intentionally involve ourselves in preschool activities to promote reading and interaction and language akills. We must also pressure government and community members to provide more resources for schools in poorer areas, and even volunteer in classrooms where possible to support individual learning in the larger classroom times.

The following exerpt comes from a report from 'Child Trends' and explains some of the dangers for children growing up in poorer communities. It is American, but the same trends can be seen in Australia.

"Child poverty merits attention because a substantial body of research links poverty with lower levels of child well-being. For a variety of reasons, when compared with children from more affluent families, poor children are more likely to have low academic achievement, to drop out of school, and to have health, behavioral, and emotional problems. These linkages are particularly strong for children whose families experience deep poverty, who are poor during early childhood, and who are trapped in poverty for a long time.

How does poverty influence cognitive and educational outcomes? Researchers suggest that the pathways are often indirect. Poor children are more likely than their more affluent peers to be raised by parents who have completed fewer years of education, and to grow up in households that are less cognitively stimulating, which can negatively affect children’s cognitive and academic attainment. They are also more likely to attend schools that lack the resources and rigor of schools in more prosperous neighborhoods. Moreover, emerging research is finding that socioeconomic status affects neuro-cognitive brain functioning. One recent study finds that chronic stress due to family poverty undermines children’s working memory. Poorer health and social behavior due to poverty also undermine educational achievement.

Poverty is also related to children’s social and emotional development. Children in poverty have a greater risk of displaying behavior and emotional problems, such as disobedience, impulsiveness, and difficulty getting along with peers. Children in poverty display fewer positive behaviors (such as compliance) than their non-impoverished peers. Family poverty is also associated with a higher risk for teen childbearing, less positive peer relations, and lower selfesteem compared with children who have never experienced poverty. One study found that longterm poverty is associated with children’s inner feelings of anxiety, unhappiness, and dependence, while current poverty is associated with acting out, disobedience and aggression."
The full report can be seen at: http://www.childtrends.org/Files//Child_Trends-2009_04_07_RB_ChildreninPoverty.pdf

The Salvation Army has a whole host of programmes that are useful for helping kids develop skills in spite of thier financial situation. Junior Soldiers is a great way to be in regular contact with kids, to teach discipline, and to be a second family that provides love and stability. Mainly music will allow you to not only stimulate the child's brain and learning, but engage with their parent and provide much needed nuture and support. And would you believe SAGALA is designed to teach kids a whole bunch of fundamental skills that are often missed when a child grows up in a disadvantaged area. It is a fantastic programme and a way to bring justice to children everywhere.

So, contact your DHQ for more information, and get started! It's time we got proactive about structural injustice against children. We need to help build the supportive foundation and give the hope and future all children deserve.

And, if you don't actually like working with children, then find a way to support either financially, or by advocating for more services and activities for children in disadvantaged areas. And, pray! It's amazing what God could do if you involved Him every once and a while!

In the words of Whitney, 'I believe the children are the future'...so don't mess them up!


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