Childhood Brain Development Must Be Fed

The new Map the Meal Gap annual report was released on May 4th. This is a national report provided by Feeding America, researched by the Neilson Co. and funded by Howard Buffett, son of Warren Buffett. This report lists food insecurity data by county in every state for the total population and for children. The new report shows another drop in the food insecurity numbers in all of our 8 county service area. The new report shows a total of just over 65,000 people in this 8 county region which is down from over 67,000 the year before. The child food insecurity number dropped from 19,580 to 18,620. Even with this noticeable decline, that number is still approximately 1 in 7 people in our communities and 1 in 5 children. The downward trend has been continuing since the end of the Great Recession when it was over 80,000 people. Barring a meltdown of the economy, I expect to see the number next year drop again. The economy continues to improve, more jobs, less unemployment, employed people migrating upward within their company or moving to a better job with another company all seems so simple, but it’s not.

One of the reasons that it’s not so simple can be that many who struggle just aren’t prepared for job opportunities when they present themselves. This is not just a technical training deficiency, but could also be a lack of knowledge concerning basic soft skills that can trip up a new hire on day 1 or day 2 that prevents them from seeing day 5 on the job. How does someone acquire or develop these soft skills if they weren’t taught at home? If they were taught at home and the child is now an adult, the disconnect could be from the circle of “friends” who may not have much interest in, or place much value in being able to navigate through simple communication that doesn’t offend people.

Parents who struggle often raise kids who will struggle when they become adults. A statistic, but I can’t quote the source that has been shared in some of our trainings offered through our Forward S.T.E.P.S. initiative says that if a child remains under-resourced for more than 8 years, the child is 40% more likely to be under-resourced as an adult. We all have habits influenced by our upbringing that can help or hurt us as we grow to adulthood. Many of us will pass those habits, beliefs and interpersonal skills on to our children whether we intend to or not.

I recently learned that 80% of our complete brain development occurs by age 3. By the time a child starts 1st grade, if they are significantly behind in the areas of development that enable them to learn at the 1st grade level, they may never develop the skill set to learn at the rate that is needed to progress in school successfully. If a child grows up in a negative environment surrounded by yelling, fighting, or illegal behavior, what chance does that child have to successfully navigate through school and become a self-sufficient adult? There are some remarkable exceptions that can be pointed out, but they are just that – remarkable exceptions. Regardless of the money in our pocket, everything we say and do is watched and many times emulated. Living in this neck of the woods is a wonderful experience and an awesome responsibility we can’t take too lightly. Our children are learning every day, the question is what will we teach them today?

by Tim Kean

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