Infants and Toddlers in the Child Welfare System

The report from, Zero to Three and ChildTrends, Changing the Course for Infants and Toddlers: A Survey of State Child Welfare Policies and Initiatives by Elizabeth Jordan, Jaclyn Szrom, Jamie Colvard, Hope Cooper and Kerry DeVooght, examines child welfare policies for the very young and differences in practices used with this population and children of other ages. In 2011, children under 1 year old were most often the victim of substantiated reports of maltreatment, followed by those ages 1 to 3 years.   Forty-seven states responded to the 2012-13 survey with information on how they treat cases involving abused and neglected infants and toddlers. Some of the findings from the report:

  • A lack of services or case schedule (expedited hearing, review or meeting schedules) crafted with the special needs and developmental changes of 0-to-3 year olds in mind. Some states (9) did allow more frequent visitation between parents and their very young children in foster care. The majority of states (42) have policies that involve the birth parent(s) in discussion of their children’s health and healthcare decisions while in state care.
  • Although their is interest in improving practices, overall, policies and training around child maltreatment are not driven by research on the impact of trauma on the still-developing brain of a child less than 3 years old. Neurological formation is critical from birth to age 3, but only 6 percent (3) of states reported mandatory training for all child welfare staff grounded in research on “promising practices” for infants and toddlers.  Of those responding to the survey, 25 states require such training for front-line caseworkers and 15 states offer it as voluntary.
  • The most commonly provided service was parenting education (offered by 39 states) or therapy provided to the young child (28 states). Seventeen states do not collect data on the services received by infants or toddlers who have been abused.

In the wake of the Sandusky case, Pennsylvania created the Task Force on Child Protection to review child abuse legislation and procedure. The final report released in 2012, available at their website as a PDF, contains several recommendations including,

  • The use and fiscal support of evidence-based child abuse prevention programs
  • Increasing the training requirements for caseworkers
  • Expediting communication and information sharing through use of electronic communication
  • An overhaul of the Child Protective Services Law, revision of definitions of key terms and expanding the list of mandatory reporters (with penalties for non-reporting)
  • Creating a statewide database containing information from every report concerning possible neglect or abuse of a child, including those determined as unfounded, while eliminating the expungement process

Recent updates on the Pennsylvania Legislature’s actions around the recommendations are summarized in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette article Seven bills pass through Senate panel to strengthen Pa. child abuse laws by Kate Giammarise and at the Pennsylvania School Boards Association website.



Musical Training in Childhood has Long-Term Brain Benefits

I came across a story heralding the new research linking early music training and improved learning capability just as the unique serenade that can only be described, either factually or fairly, as “trumpet practice – week two” began to reverberate off the walls of the home office. Off the walls of the entire home, actually.

The pluses associated with early musical exposure are standard fare in parenting magazines, and there is evidence that long-term musical instruction has neurological benefits for those who pursue it into adulthood.  Yet, there has been little empirical support for the premise that run-of-the-mill childhood musical instruction has a significant positive impact on brain response and function.

According to a study published last month in the Journal of Neuroscience (available via a link from the Northwestern University School of Communication), researchers Erika Skoe and Nina Kraus found that participants with one-to-five years of childhood musical training had more robust neural responses when processing sound cues than those who had no such training.  The results from participants who had engaged in six-to-ten years of musical training as youth were even more impressive.

The study demonstrates that even a few years of music lessons can have a fundamental impact on brain functioning nearly a decade later.  How much longer the benefits are retained after that point, and if or when they begin to diminish, has not yet been examined.

Play on, son.  I eagerly await Land of A Thousand Dances.




Citation: Skoe E, Kraus N. (2012) A little goes a long way: how the adult brain is shaped by musical training in childhood. Journal of Neuroscience. 32(34):11507–11510.

Addiction: A Brain Disorder not a Behavioral Problem

The American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) recently released a new definition of addiction, defining it as a brain disorder that is chronic in nature, not merely a behavioral problem. In addition, the definition now describes addiction as a primary, not secondary, disease and (as a chronic condition centered in the brain) one that must be treated and managed over the course of a person’s lifetime.

The entire definition can be read and commented on at the ASAM website.

Early Identification of Autism

According to the results of the study, EEG complexity as a biomarker for autism spectrum disorder risk, out of Boston Children’s Hospital, an early identification method for autism may one day be available for high risk infants (those with a sibling with a diagnosis on the autism spectrum) as young as 6 months old.

The test uses electroencephalography (EEG) to measure brain activity at various points in the child’s early development. The researchers detected patterns in the high-risk group that were different from those of the control group, and may indicate a higher likelihood of neurological developmental differences predictive of autism.

At this time, the early detection method is not expected to be widely available as its success with non-high-risk pool infants has not been thoroughly tested. However, this breakthrough in identifying a possible autism spectrum biomarker may jump-start the development of earlier interventions and therapies for very young children with a familial history of autism.

A copy of the study is available in PDF form from the BMC website.

Study Citation: EEG complexity as a biomarker for autism spectrum disorder risk William Bosl, Adrienne Tierney, Helen Tager-Flusberg and Charles Nelson. BMC Medicine 2011, 9:18doi:10.1186/1741-7015-9-18