Meeting the Needs of Students and Families from Poverty: A Handbook for School and Mental Health Professionals

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9781557668677: Meeting the Needs of Students and Families from Poverty: A Handbook for School and Mental Health Professionals
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Poverty has a profound impact on children's learning and achievement—and with this timely resource, psychologists, administrators, and educators in K–12 settings will learn to be sensitive to the challenges poverty poses and discover ways to efficiently improve the academic skills of their students. This volume gives readers the latest research-based clinical and educational approaches to working effectively with children and families from poverty, enabling them to implement individual, classroom, or schoolwide supports that foster academic success and a positive school climate.

Education professionals will discover how to

  • Incorporate the impact of poverty on children's cognitive and social development into the assessment process
  • Effectively identify children's needs and strengths, work with their families, and design interventions that respect children's diversity and unique experiences
  • Use proven education methods successfully in their own school settings—including response to intervention, social skills training, and schoolwide positive behavioral support
  • Encourage family participation and learn to recognize family strengths and risks through building relationships
  • Address the hottest topics in education-including working with English-language learners, improving behavior, and promoting literacy skills
A well-rounded professional resource, this expert volume covers all the angles—epidemiological, biological, historical, socio-political, cultural, educational, and psychological—to provide readers with a true appreciation of the challenges facing students and families from poverty. Education can be the ticket out of poverty—and professionals will now have the know-how and tools they need to better help children overcome barriers, raise their academic performance, and improve their quality of life.

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About the Author:


Dr. Thomas-Presswood is Associate Professor in the School Psychology Program at Gallaudet University. She received her doctoral degree in clinical and school psychology from Hofstra University in 1989 and has had postgraduate training in school neuropsychology. Dr. Thomas-Presswood has had extensive experience working in the public schools as a school psychologist in New York and Texas. In addition to her full-time teaching position at Gallaudet, she is a practicing school psychologist with the Arlington Public Schools system in Virginia. Dr. Thomas-Presswood was born in the Republic of Panama´ and has been living in the United States since 1980. She speaks Spanish fluently and has been developing her skills in American Sign Language. She lives in Annapolis, Maryland, with her husband, Donald Presswood, and daughter, Brielle Sof∆´a.

Dr. Presswood was born and raised on the west side of Chicago, Illinois. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Spanish from DePaul University in 1980. Since August 2002, Dr. Presswood has been the principal of Ludlow-Taylor Elementary School in Northeast Washington, D.C., and he serves as an Adjunct Professor in the School of Education Educational Leadership Program at Trinity University in Washington, D.C. Before becoming a school administrator, Dr. Presswood worked as a special education teacher in Austin, Texas, from 1995 to 1998; served on active duty as a U.S. Army Infantry Officer from 1980 to 1995; and worked as a physical education teacher in Chicago, Illinois, from 1976 to 1979. Dr. Presswood earned his Ph.D. in special education administration in 1998 and his M.A. in Latin American studies in 1991 from The University of Texas at Austin.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Excerpted from Chapter 3 of Meeting the Needs of Students and Families from Poverty : A Handbook for School and Mental Health Professionals, by Tania N. Thomas-Presswood & Donald Presswood.

Copyright © by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Living in poverty increases the exposure to environmental risk factors, which can begin even before conception and can interfere with brain development, negatively influencing cognitive and behavioral development. Some social scientists have argued that racism and classism play a pivotal role in creating the conditions in society that support the continuance of poverty and its effects. For example, Giscombe´ and Lobel (2005) asserted that the disproportionately high rates of adverse birth outcomes among African Americans can be attributed to the stress due to racism. Ferri and Connor (2005), Hooks (2000) and Kozol (1992) noted the role of the schools in perpetuating a system that leads to school failure, special education placement and labeling, school drop out, and the cycle of poverty. Poverty has a chronic and pervasive effect that raises the probability that the negative effect of early environmental and biological risk factors will accumulate and persist over time (Aylward, 1997). Limited access to timely health care services also interferes with early intervention services and follow-up medical programs. Many working families with low incomes do not qualify for public health benefits (Cauthen & Lu, 2003), and many employers of parents with low incomes do not offer health coverage or sufficient coverage. A number of risk factors associated with poverty and their ongoing influences on school performance are reviewed in this chapter, and the chapter concludes with a discussion on protective factors and resilience.

There is a proven relationship between poverty and developmental outcomes (Fujiura & Yamaki, 2000). Scholars have been studying the effect of many variables, both biological and environmental, on the development of children. Poverty is associated with a negative influence on children's health and development. It is related to increased neonatal and postnatal mortality rates; greater risk of injuries resulting from accidents, physical abuse, or neglect; higher risk for asthma; exposure to teratogens; and lower developmental scores in a range of tests at different ages (Aber, Bennett, Conley, & Li, 1997). The effects of many environmental risk factors are well documented. Consuming alcohol during pregnancy is linked to neurodevelopmental impairments, and young children's exposure to lead is associated with learning disabilities. Environmental influences that alter the normal development of the embryo or fetus are called teratogens, which can be divided into four categories: drugs (e.g., alcohol, thalidomide), physical agents (e.g., hyperthermia, radiation), congenital infections (e.g., HIV, rubella, cytomegalovirus, syphilis), and metabolic conditions that affect the mother (e.g., maternal PKU-phenylketonuria; Saddler, 1995; Scott, 1994). Studies have revealed the role of several factors in determining the effect of teratogens: dose, duration, genetic makeup of the fetus, and the mother's condition (Saddler, 1995; Scott, 1994).

Having a working knowledge of the possible effects of environmental variables on child development is fundamental to the effective provision of services to children and families living in impoverished conditions because many of these are preventable and the effects can be ameliorated by early intervention. The following is a review of some critical and preventable environmental risks that may help educators and mental health professionals better understand the challenges faced by children and families living in poverty.

NUTRITION

Good nutrition is the basis for typical growth and development (Farber, Yanni, & Batshaw, 1997) during prenatal and childhood periods. During pregnancy, proper nutrition or a balanced diet that includes the daily requirement of essential vitamins is critical to meet the needs of the fetus and the changes in maternal tissue that supports the fetus (Chomitz, Cheung,&Lieberman, 1995). Maternal malnutrition early in a pregnancy (specifically deficiency in fatty acids, vitamin E, and trace elements) can decrease the number of cells and synapse formation and may disrupt neuronal migration in the developing fetus (Aylward, 1997). Folic acid is another necessary vitamin in the diet of pregnant women at the time of conception and in the first 3 months of prenatal development (Liptak, 2002). Women of child-bearing age and/or those considering pregnancy are strongly advised to take folic acid because research has shown that it prevents brain and spine defects such as neural tube defects (e.g., spinal bifida, encephalocele, anencephaly; Liptak, 1997) and other birth defects (e.g., cleft palate; Shaw, Schaffer, Velie, Morland,& Harris, 1995). Folic acid or folate is a water-soluble vitamin in the B-complex that is essential to tissue growth and cell function and is needed for the production of red cells and for the synthesis of DNA (Shils, Olson, Shike, & Ross, 1999). It is associated with tissue growth and cell function, maintains new cells, and is particularly critical during periods of rapid cell division and growth that occur during pregnancy and infancy (Shils et al., 1999). Deficiency of folic acid may be responsible for poor growth, certain types of anemia, and birth defects, which include congenital malformations of the spine, skull, and brain (Milunsky et al., 1989; Mulinare, Cordero, Erickson, & Berry, 1988; Shaw et al., 1995). Folic acid can be found in dark green leafy vegetables, citrus fruits and juices, beans and legumes, liver, pork, shellfish, wheat bran, and fortified cereals. These dietary sources of folic acid, however, may not be found in the typical diet of pregnant women and children living in disadvantaged conditions due to limited income and poor knowledge of proper nutrition.

Generally, concerns regarding nutrition during pregnancy fall into two categories: maternal weight gain and intake of nutrients (Chomitz et al., 1995). A number of variables are associated with maternal weight gain during pregnancy: dietary intake, prepregnancy weight and height, length of gestation, and size of the fetus (Chomitz et al., 1995). Research has documented that maternal weight gain during pregnancy is highly correlated with the birth weight of the infant because a great deal of the weight gain is from the fetus (Chomitz et al., 1995). The last 3 months of pregnancy are associated with weight and height gain for the fetus. During this period, the fetus grows from 2 pounds to about 7 pounds and increases in length from 14 to 19 inches (Graham & Morgan, 1997). It is in the last trimester that intrauterine growth retardation (i.e., inadequate growth of the fetus) typically occurs, and it is often the result of maternal undernutrition during pregnancy, maternal illness, or uteroplacental insufficiency (Farber et al., 1997). Therefore, adequate nutrition is essential throughout a woman' s pregnancy for the development and delivery of a healthy infant. The average weight gain for mothers during pregnancy is 30 pounds. Teenage mothers, unmarried mothers, older mothers, and mothers with limited education, however, tend to have low or insufficient weight gain (less than 22 pounds) during pregnancy (Chomitz et al., 1995). Higher maternal weight gain is associated with healthier fetal weight gain (Chomitz et al., 1995).

Low birth weight (LBW) is one of the consequences of inadequate nutrition during pregnancy, and LBW infants are at a higher risk than infants of typical weight for health problems as newborns, developmental delays, and possible learning difficulties later in childhood (Blanc & Wardlaw, 1995; Shiono & Behrman, 1995). After an infant is born, good or balanced nutrition continues to be imperative to physical, cognitive, and social development. Early in an infant' s life, malnutrition can interfere with brain development by causing decreased synthesis of myelin. Myelination occurs postnatally up to adulthood (Teeter Ellison & Semrud-Clikeman, 2007) and facilitates the rapid communication between neurons. The risks for developmental problems, such as cognitive deficiencies and difficulties with attentional and social responsiveness, exist (Teeter Ellison & Semrud-Clikeman, 2007).

Breast milk is the best and most complete source of nourishment for babies; it is rich in nutrients including the proper ratio of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, minerals, and vitamins (Farber et al., 1997), and breast milk changes in accordance with the infant' s growing nutritional needs (Renfrew et al., 2005). Mothers are highly encouraged to breastfeed their infants except when there is a chance of passing infections or toxic substances from mother to infant. For example, mothers who are HIV positive, are actively using street drugs and/or alcohol, have actively untreated tuberculosis and varicella, or who are being treated for breast cancer with certain medications may not breastfeed their babies (Pugh, Milligan, Frick, Spatz, & Bronner, 2002). Breastfeeding has been associated with many positive benefits to the young child including protection from postneonatal death, chronic and acute childhood diseases, and obesity (Davis, 2001). Studies of the benefit of breastfeeding note that it protects young children against common diseases such as juvenile onset insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus (Sadauskaite- Kuehne et al., 2004), urinary track infections (Marild, Hansson, Jodal, Oden, & Svedberg, 2004), gastroenteritis and respiratory diseases (Kramer et al., 2001), and obesity in childhood (Fewtrell, 2004). Studies have also found positive outcomes and benefits for the mother such as lowered ovarian and endometrial cancers and premenopausal breast cancer (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1997; American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists [ACOG], 2000). Breastfeeding plays a major role in public health because it helps prevent diseases in the child and mother (Renfrew et al., 2005). Breastfeeding is not only cost effective (e.g., less financial resources spent on baby formula and medical visits) but also, some studies have found a positive correlation between breastfeeding and cognitive development in children who are breastfed for extended periods of time (Renfrew et al., 2005). Although breastfeeding has been shown to ameliorate health risks typically faced by families of low income, breastfeeding rates are lower in these families (Pugh et al., 2002). The influence of societal norms, cultural norms, health problems, and lack of preparation and health services promotion and support of effective breastfeeding practices are some of the reasons cited as responsible for the lower breastfeeding rates in women of low income.

Nutritional deficiencies are not only of concern during prenatal development and infancy, but also can have significantly negative effects during childhood. It is important to understand two concepts relevant to nutrition and development: undernutrition and malnutrition. Undernutrition refers to the under consumption of energy (calories) or nutrients, and malnutrition is defined as severe undernutrition that can manifest itself as severe failure to thrive (Farber et al., 1997). The earlier the experience of undernutrition or malnutrition, the greater the effect on the child's neurological development (Farber et al., 1997). Signs of undernutrition include poor weight, reduced rate of growth and head circumference, and low muscle and fatty tissue. This condition is called failure to thrive and it applies to children who do not meet the standard for age in growth and development (Farber et al., 1997). Infantile malnutrition severely affects brain development by reducing brain cell count by as much as 20% (Brown & Pollit, 1996; Crosby, 1991). Although malnutrition and failure to thrive are more commonly seen in children living in poverty and children living in extreme conditions in developing countries, it can occur on many socioeconomic levels. For example, children who are offered a diet lacking in proper nutrients; children who have restricted food choices; children who are not given a diet that is developmentally appropriate; and children with severe disabilities whose intake of food might be erratic or low due to difficulty with ingestion, digestion, or side effects of medications (Farber et al., 1997) can become malnourished.

Malnutrition can lead to learning problems; may interfere with the full expression of genetic potential for cognitive development; and can affect motivation, concentration, social interaction, and time required for learning (Sattler, 2001). Research suggests, however, that if malnutrition is corrected early in infancy or childhood and if affected children are placed in educationally enriched environments, then the negative effects of malnutrition (e.g., low cognitive abilities) can be mitigated or reversed (Colombo, de la Parra, & Lopez, 1992). Adding or supplementing the diet of children who are malnourished or undernourished with vitamins and minerals has been found to raise affected children' s nonverbal IQ scores by an average of 9 points, and supplementing the diet has a greater effect on younger children than on teenagers (Brody, 1992; Sattler, 2001).

LOW BIRTH WEIGHT

LBW is the term used to describe infants born too small, whereas preterm is the term used to described infants born too soon (Shiono & Behrman, 1995). LBW infants may be premature or small for gestational age (SGA). Premature infants are those born at or before the 36th week of gestation. Infants whose weight as newborns is below the 10th percentile for gestational age are referred to as SGA or as having intrauterine growth retardation (Bernbaum & Batshaw, 1997; Farber et al., 1997). Infants born SGA can be full term or premature. The SGA infant typically looks malnourished and wasted at birth and can experience growth retardation due to maternal illness or malnutrition (Bernbaum & Batshaw, 1997). Half the SGA infants are described as having normal length and growth potential, and the other half are described as short and small and as having a tendency toward poorer outcome (Bernbaum & Batshaw, 1997). Sixty percent have proportional growth impairment (i.e., the head and brain growth have been affected), and 40% have disproportionate growth impairment in which the brain has not been significantly affected (Farber et al., 1997). These infants have a higher incidence of developmental disabilities, learning disabilities, behavioral difficulties, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD; Bernbaum & Batshaw, 1997).

LBW infants are born weighing less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces (2,500 grams), and 1 out of every 13 infants born in the United States every year is LBW (Linden, Paroli,&Doron, 2000; Martin et al., 2002). The factors that increase the chances of having an infant with LBW are genetic and environmental, including mother's health and lifestyle (e.g., hypertension, abnormal uterus that may ...

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