Ex­perts: Painful child­hood events im­pact ed­u­ca­tion

The Oklahoman (Sunday) - - METRO | STATE - BY STEVE GUST For The Ok­la­homan

One ex­pert calls neg­a­tive early child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences the most im­por­tant pub­lic health is­sue of our time.

Amanda Sh­effield Mor­ris, speak­ing last week in Ok­la­homa City, said bad ex­pe­ri­ences set the stage for aca­demic strug­gles in school and pos­si­ble sub­stance abuse dur­ing the ado­les­cent years.

Mor­ris, foun­da­tion chair in child de­vel­op­ment at Ok­la­homa State Univer­sity, was a break­out ses­sion speaker dur­ing the Ok­la­homa Early Child­hood Coali­tion Sum­mit, or­ga­nized by the Potts Fam­ily Foun­da­tion. Also ad­dress­ing the is­sue was Lana Beasley, as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of hu­man de­vel­op­ment and fam­ily sci­ence at OSU.

Ex­am­ples of an ad­verse child­hood ex­pe­ri­ence, or ACE, are abuse, ne­glect and wit­ness­ing do­mes­tic abuse or sub­stance abuse by a par­ent. Di­vorce, parental in­car­cer­a­tion and poverty are other fac­tors the speak­ers said can ham­per the life of chil­dren as they en­ter school.

“Ok­la­homa has one of the high­est ACE rates in the na­tion,” Mor­ris said. Quoting Kaiser Foun­da­tion stud­ies, she said

45.5 per­cent of Ok­la­homa chil­dren are “at risk,” with three or more ACEs. She said Ok­la­homa has one of the high­est di­vorce rates, and 11 per­cent of chil­dren have wit­nessed do­mes­tic vi­o­lence.

The good news, Beasley said, is that some­thing can be done to off­set the prob­lems caused by ad­verse child­hood ex­pe­ri­ences.

“Good qual­ity early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion can make a dif­fer­ence,” she said.

Beasley cited work done on the Perry Pre-

school Project.

The pro­gram, started in 1962 in Michi­gan, was of­fered to more than 100 dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren, and fol­low-up stud­ies have been done over the past 50 years.

What was dis­cov­ered, she said, is that project par­tic­i­pants grew up to have fewer chil­dren out of wed­lock, earned higher in­comes and were less likely to re­ceive gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance.

“Com­mu­ni­ties and or­ga­ni­za­tions have to come to­gether to min­i­mize ACEs,” Mor­ris said. In­ter­ven­tion and preven­tion at an early age pay div­i­dends, she said.

Beasley said the re­turn on in­vest­ment ranges

any­where from 7 to 13 per­cent.

Dur­ing a ques­tio­nand-an­swer ses­sion, one par­tic­i­pant won­dered if money now spent on cor­rec­tions could be di­verted to early child­hood ed­u­ca­tion.

Both speak­ers said in­vest­ments early in a child’s life are cheaper so­lu­tions than in­car­cer­a­tion later in life.

They also en­cour­aged men­tal health sup­port for par­ents to pre­vent phys­i­cal abuse as well as sub­stance abuse, and ad­vo­cated safe and af­ford­able hous­ing as well as in­vest­ment in ed­u­ca­tion.

“Our leg­is­la­tion and poli­cies must fo­cus on

child safety,” Beasley said.

Beasley said her work with at-risk fam­i­lies has at times left her heart­bro­ken as she hears from par­ents who are afraid to send their chil­dren to school with vi­o­lent stu­dents.

Some say they must drive to parks across town, be­cause their neigh­bor­hood parks are not safe.

Mor­ris said so­ci­ety needs to re­shape its think­ing to­ward stu­dents who strug­gle in school with aca­demic and be­hav­ioral is­sues.

“In­stead of ask­ing them ‘what is wrong with you?’ we need to ask ‘what hap­pened to you?’”

Amanda Mor­ris

Lana Beasley

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