Friday, September 22, 2017

Get The Lead Out

We learn in Politico Magazine about

a program called Becoming a Man, a 16-year-old group therapy and mentoring program operating in dozens of Chicago schools. It aims to help young men like these learn impulse control—to think more slowly as a way of avoiding the reflexive anger that has led to the deaths of so many young people in Chicago—and learn skills and values that will guide them to productive lives after they graduate.

While with both public and private programs the concept is being implemented in a major way in Chicago

BAM and its sister program, Working on Womanhood, are part of a larger national trend. Urban schools from Oakland and San Francisco to Philadelphia are adopting social and emotional learning based on mounting evidence that kids in high-crime, poor neighborhoods need help coping with the after-effects of witnessing traumatic violence. While officials at the federal level talk about more muscular law enforcement as the solution to urban crime, these programs present a more affordable alternative that’s preventive, not punitive.

Explaining the critical need for such a program

“You can really expect, in schools in highly disadvantaged neighborhoods, that all the students are coping with something very traumatic,” says Micere Keels, a University of Chicago human development professor working on a trauma-responsive curriculum for the Chicago Public Schools. “There’s a growing awareness that [those] kids are coming to school struggling with cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disregulation because of stress.”

Stress, yes- but much more than stress. Reuters recently investigated

hidden lead hazards nationwide. Since last year, the news agency has identified more than 3,300 U.S. neighborhood areas with documented childhood lead poisoning rates double those found in Flint. Studies based on previously available data, surveying broad child populations across entire states or counties, usually couldn’t pinpoint these communities.

Despite decades of U.S. progress in curbing lead poisoning, millions of children remain at risk. Flint’s disaster is just one example of a preventable public health crisis that continues in hotspots coast to coast, Reuters has found...

The human development professor refers to "cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disregulation."  Some of us call it by a different name: crime.

Three recent studies yet again demonstrate the link between a child's exposure to lead and later delinquent and criminal behavior.  Perhaps most intriguing is the study of children in Rhode Island who were born between 1990 and 2004 who, Brookings explained

happened to live closer to busy roads within a neighborhood are more likely to have high blood lead levels, because the soil near those roads was still contaminated due to the use of leaded gasoline decades ago....

(Anna) Aizer and (Janet) Currie find that being exposed to higher levels of lead increases kids’ likelihood of suspension from school as well as (for boys) the probability of being incarcerated as juveniles. The magnitude of their estimates suggest that the reduction in lead exposure due to the switch to unleaded gasoline may indeed explain a substantial portion of the decline in crime in the 1990s and 2000s.

These studies tend to confirm earlier studies, as Kevin Drum has pointed out, "at the international level, the national level, the state level, the city level, and even the individual level. Lead helps destroy "gray matter in the parts of the brain that enable people to pay attention, regulate emotions and control impulses," not unlike the cognitive, emotional, and behavioral disregulation cited by Ph.D. Keels.

In February 2016 Drum, who has been out front on the crime-lead connection, wrote "So this is the choice before us: We can either attack crime at its root by getting rid of the remaining lead in our environment, or we can continue our current policy of waiting 20 years and then locking up all the lead-poisoned kids who have turned into criminals."

Programs such as those in Chicago demonstrate that there is a third option:  counseling and lead mitigation.  But we need to avoid the temptation of employing the former, sexier approach while erdicating the toxic material from anything that can affect children.

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