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Poverty and Violence Linked to Childhood Trauma, Poor Health

Poor kids who grow up in dangerous neighborhoods are far more likely to be traumatized as children and less likely to overcome their adversity, according to a new study by the Oakland-based Prevention Institute.

And that dynamic frequently leads to poor health in adulthood.

“What we have now in communities with high rates of poverty, where there are environmental hazards, a lack of parks, a lack of safety — those communities are actually causing people’s ill health later in life,” said the study’s lead author, Howard Pinderhughes, an associate professor at UCSF’s School of Nursing.

The study dovetails with a bill recently introduced by Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) that would establish a four-year pilot program to help some schools and communities provide mental health services for traumatized children.

The bill would give teachers and school officials more training and technical assistance to help them recognize signs of trauma in children up to third grade — including anxiety, bullying and withdrawal. And it would give them options to intervene.

The stress of growing up in poor, violence-plagued communities is compounded, Pinderhughes said, by the fact that the living conditions make it harder for children to cope with the trauma.

“Resilience is not something people have all by themselves,” Pinderhughes said. “They get it from the environment. That’s why the community is so important.”

The study, funded by Kaiser Permanente, emphasizes that growing up in neighborhoods with high levels of poverty and conflict contributes to a cycle of violence, trauma and incarceration that is particularly pronounced among boys and men of color. Kaiser Health News and California Healthline are unaffiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

In the pilot plan proposed by Bonta, the state’s Department of Public Health could help give regional training and outreach to schools that provide anti-trauma services, and it would expand the number of school sites providing them.

The bill is expected to be taken up by several legislative committees, starting in April.

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