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.

Nurturing as a Protective Factor

Being a good parent may protect your children from the long-term health effects of poverty, according to a study published in the November 2011 edition of Psychological Science, the journal from the Association for Psychological Science.

The researchers found that children who had been raised in poverty often experienced chronic health issues later in life, however, a small subset of low-income children remained healthy throughout their lives. Closer examination of various factors identified a high level of maternal nurturing as the primary barrier or protective factor against chronic health problems, even more than achieving a higher socioeconomic status as an adult. Clearly, data and long-term outcomes support concern for the emotional well being of children, making it as important as care for their physical needs. Children benefit from being raised in a loving, safe, stable environment.

The study abstract is available online but the full article can only be accessed through a subscription service (check your local or university library system).

Study citation: Miller GE, Lachman ME, Chen E, Gruenewald TL, Karlamangla AS, Seeman TE.
Pathways to Resilience: Maternal Nurturance as a Buffer Against the Effects of
Childhood Poverty on Metabolic Syndrome at Midlife. Psychol Sci. 2011 Nov 28.
[Epub ahead of print] PubMed PMID: 22123777.