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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, November 28, 2023


In last week's column, I noted that the number of children living in poverty in the U. S. Virgin Islands is about 12 percent higher than that of the average in the mainland United States. If we are going to improve the quality of life in the Virgin Islands, then we need to get serious about addressing the poverty of our children.
Why? Because poverty can breed a sense of hopelessness and limit learning.
In terms of poverty creating a pervasive sense of hopelessness, we must understand that children who perceive that there is no hope that they will live to be adults will see no need to prepare for adulthood. For many of our young people, this is their reality.
A part of the growing-up process starts with a simple question: What are you going to be when you grow up? This is repeated throughout a child's life.
These children grow up knowing that there is a future waiting for them. They just know they have to plan to be somebody or something as they grow older. This is expected, even demanded of them.
Can you imagine growing up in a household where due to hopelessness there is no sense of tomorrow, you only live for today? Such a child will evidence no disquiet or concern that he or she has no plans for tomorrow and, sadly, there is usually no one around them that finds this strange.
When I asked my daughter this question from small, she, at different times in her life would respond — When I grow up I am going to be a fireman, a rap star, a doctor, whatever, but she already knows at the age of 13 that she has to be something when she grows up.
There are so many times when I ask this same question of children from economically disadvantaged families and their reply, amazingly even at the high school level, is, I don't know. Many of our children seem to disbelieve that there is a tomorrow waiting for them and, therefore, fail to plan for tomorrow.
Poverty affects intelligence. Why? Because intelligence starts to develop soon after conception and continues throughout the prenatal period. Insufficient and/or inappropriate food eaten by a poor pregnant woman has a lasting impact on the baby's brain, particularly in those areas where thinking and remembrance occur.
As you know, if you cannot learn or remember, your chances of success in the academic world are extremely poor. So too are your chances in the world of work.
If a woman cannot afford the requisite prenatal vitamins, this further endangers the baby. As you also know, if you add drug or alcohol use, you further diminish the baby's chances of a good life and increase the likelihood of serious birth defects such as retardation.
We should all be aware that, according to authors Brown, L. & Pollitt, E., "Children deprived of proper nutrition during the brain's formative years score much lower on tests of vocabulary, reading comprehension, arithmetic, and general knowledge. The more severe the poverty a child faces, the lower his or her nutritional level is likely to be."
Our community needs to reach out and explore the many creative and innovative ways that others are using to grapple with these issues. We are working on a land-use plan; how about our social plan, are we going to do one?
Editor's note: Catherine L. Mills, a former Human Services commissioner, has a master's degree in social work.

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