Wednesday, July 30, 2014 - 11:13:16 AM

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The Consequences of Binghamton's Childhood Poverty

(Source: Jason Weinstein)

42 percent of children in Binghamton live in poverty, compared to 23 percent nationwide. That means thousands of kids in Binghamton are dealing with what Dr. Lisa Blitz calls toxic stress.

The head of BU's Share Program, which promotes healthy students and safe schools, says the constant lack of resources leads to physiological damage to children's development.

"Short-term memory, our decision making, our emotional stability, our impulse control, all of these are impacted by all these floods of neuro chemicals when people are under tremendous stress," said Blitz.

Blitz says impoverished parents can often only do so much to lessen the level of stress.

"Financially poor people tend to live in communities that are financially poor. So you can only do so much to protect your child and your family from what's hapenning around. And that's why it's so important that schools and communities come together around this," said Blitz.

"First and foremost we try to create a safe, secure environment for children and give them as much comfort as possible," said Dr. Marion H. Martinez, Superintendent of Binghamton City Schools.

Binghamton Schools offer free breakfasts and lunches to students, with some schools also providing access to a health-care clinic. The district also partners with community organizations to provide food and supplies.

"We are trying to deal with their social/emotional needs and with their academic needs. And hunger is one of the biggest issues," said Martinez.

"It's difficult to focus on the daily instruction of a teacher when your mind is thinking about what you're going to eat or if there are scarce resources as far as food," said BU SHARE Program Social Work Supervisor Carla Murray.

Martinez says the impact of poverty on children's educational development can be seen early.

"Those children who come into us as three-year-olds, four-year-olds, five-year-olds are immediately academically behind," said Martinez.

Martinez says by the age of four children in poverty have been exposed to just half the number of words middle-class children have, and not quite 30 percent of words upper-middle-class kids have.

"It will have dire consequences. That's why when you look at the cost to incarcerate an inmate on a yearly basis, if we could just transfer that money to early childhood education and invest and front load it instead of dealing with the ramifications of it," said Martinez.

"I hope that it heightens people's sensibilities that  there's an issue that really needs to be addressed and we need to tackle as a community," said Murray.

Friday night we'll look at a school whose student body has a childhood poverty rate of almost 90 percent, and some success stories despite those numbers.

****In Binghamton, Jason Weinstein, Fox 40 HD News.****

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