Children's Voice Jan/Feb 2007

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Increasing Literacy Skills Through Arts Education

Programs that engage students in arts education can improve children's literacy skills, according to the early findings from a three-year study conducted by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. The study analyzed the effects of the Guggenheim's pioneering program, Learning Through Art (LTA), to determine the improvement, if any, in students' abilities to describe and interpret art and to apply these skills to understanding written text.

The study showed that students participating in LTA performed better in several categories of literacy and critical-thinking skills--including extended focus, hypothesizing, and providing multiple interpretations--than did students who were not in the program. Students in the program are asked to discuss a particular work of art and an excerpt from an award-winning children's book. The study indicated that LTA students used more words to express themselves and demonstrated higher overall literacy skills than did the control group.

"Excellence in teaching is a hallmark of the Guggenheim," says Kim Kanatani, Director of Education at the Guggenheim, "and the evaluation findings confirm what we have known intuitively--that our dynamic approach to viewing, discussing, and creating works of art with youth improves their ability to think and read."

A museum trustee created LTA in 1970, when New York schools were cutting art and music programs. Since its inception, more than 130,000 students in dozens of public schools have participated in the program. The museum dispatches artists who spend one day a week at schools over a 10- or 20-week period, helping students and teachers learn about and make art. Groups of students also go to the Guggenheim to see exhibitions.

More about the LTA program.

Child Poverty Surges in Midwest

Child poverty in the United States has increased significantly since 2000, and a new report, The New Poor: Regional Trends in Child Poverty, by the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) reveals that children and families in some regions have been hit harder than others.

"Our political leaders talk about how strong our economy is, but this report shows clearly that families in all regions of the United States are struggling to make ends meet," says NCCP Deputy Director Nancy K. Cauthen. "The story from the Midwest makes it painfully obvious that work at low wages is not enough to keep families out of poverty. It's time we address the challenges associated with low-wage work."

Nationwide, child poverty has increased 12% since 2000, but the increase in the Midwest was a stunning 29%--by far the largest of any region. In addition, the Midwest was the only region where poverty increased even among children with employed parents, due to the loss of relatively well-paid manufacturing jobs.

In the Northeast, child poverty increased by 11%, and in the South by 9%. The child poverty rate in the West remained virtually unchanged.

The report calls for solutions that strengthen regional economies and address the problems associated with low-wage work. NCCP points to a number of immediate policy changes that would improve conditions for low-wage workers and their children, including raising the minimum wage, enacting or expanding state earned income tax credits, restoring immigrants' access to health care, and strengthening unemployment insurance.

Read the entire report.

Better Disaster Planning Needed for Child Welfare Systems

How prepared for disaster are state child welfare systems? A Government Accountability Office (GAO) report indicates only 20 states and the District of Columbia have written child welfare disaster plans, and their plans vary regarding the kinds of issues addressed.

Nineteen states address the preservation of child welfare records, 13 address the ability to identify children who may be dispersed as a result of a disaster, 11 address the ability to identify new child welfare cases, 10 address the coordination of services, and just 6 address the need to place children in other states.

In the aftermath of the devastating hurricanes in 2005, Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA) proposed legislation to support child welfare efforts in future disasters. His request for the GAO report was an outgrowth of those efforts.

GAO recommends Congress pass legislation requiring states develop and submit disaster plans, and that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provide guidance to states in the planning of disaster relief as it relates to child welfare issues. Forty-eight federal disasters were declared last year, punctuated by Hurricane Katrina.

View the GAO report online.

Study Shows How Kids' Media Use Helps Parents Cope

Various forms of electronic media are central to many families, and parents often use them to help manage busy schedules, keep the peace, and facilitate family routines, according to a new national study released by the Kaiser Family Foundation.

The report, The Media Family: Electronic Media in the Lives of Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Their Parents, is based on a national study of 1,051 parents of children ages 6 months to 6 years. The study reveals that, in a typical day, 83% of children younger than 6 use screen media for approximately two hours. Media use increases with age: 61% of babies 1 year old or younger watch screen media in a typical day--this statistic increases to 90% for 4- to 6-year-olds.

One-third of the children surveyed have televisions in their bedrooms. As one mother commented, "Media makes life easier. We're all happier. He isn't throwing tantrums. I can get some work done." Some of the parents surveyed expressed satisfaction with the educational benefits of television and mentioned that it can teach positive behaviors.

"Parents have a tough job, and they rely on TV in particular to help make their lives more manageable," says Vicky Rideout, Vice President and Director of Kaiser's Program for the Study of Entertainment Media and Health. "Parents use media to help them keep their kids occupied, calm them down, avoid family squabbles, and teach their kids the things parents are afraid they don't have time to teach themselves."

The study also found:
  • Of children younger than 2, 43% watch TV every day, and 18% watch videos or DVDs every day.

  • Most parents say they are in the same room with their children while they're watching TV either all or most of the time.

  • Of parents with children younger than 2, 26% say their children have never watched TV.

  • Sixty-six percent of parents say they've seen their children imitate positive behaviors from TV, and 23% say their children have imitated aggressive behavior, like hitting or kicking. Older boys are more likely to imitate aggressive behavior from TV.

  • Fifty-three percent of parents say TV tends to calm down their children, whereas 17% say TV gets their children excited.
The full report is available online.

Waivers Boost Child Care Funding Post-Katrina

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued waivers to Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas last summer, paving the way for those states to receive $60 million worth of child care vouchers to support their recovery efforts following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

The waivers lifted federal requirements for state matching funds for states to receive Child Care and Development Fund money. HHS granted the waivers under provisions of an emergency supplemental appropriations act passed by Congress early last year to aid victims of 2005's Gulf hurricanes.

"We are dedicated to helping children and families recovering from hurricane disasters," says HHS Secretary Mike Leavitt. "These waivers will provide parents with much-needed child care services as they continue to rebuild their lives and communities."

Louisiana will receive $27 million; Mississippi, $2 million; and Texas, $31 million to help low-income families affected by Katrina and Rita.

Finding a Better Means of Detecting Infant Brain Injury

Researchers have discovered a new screening test that may identify infants who are at increased risk for inflicted traumatic brain injury and, thus, cut down on misdiagnoses of shaken baby syndrome or other brain injuries.

Thousands of children nationwide are injured or killed as a result of child abuse every year. The most common cause for inflicted brain injury in the first two years of life is shaken baby syndrome. The research could become a breakthrough in helping doctors diagnose shaken baby syndrome and have an impact on prevention efforts, the National Center on Shaken Baby Syndrome said in a statement.

Rachel P. Berger, in collaboration with other physicians and researchers from Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, found the levels of certain proteins in blood or spinal fluid increase in infants with brain injury, and that using serum and cerebrospinal biomarkers can help in screening infants who are at high risk for traumatic brain injury and whose injuries might otherwise be missed.

"Proper diagnosis of inflicted traumatic brain injury, or shaken baby syndrome, is often difficult even for experienced and astute physicians because caregivers rarely provide a history of trauma, children present with nonspecific symptoms such as vomiting, and the physical examination can be completely normal," says Berger, who is also an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

The study was published in the American Academy of Pediatrics' journal Pediatrics. More information on the study is online.


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