Helping Children Overcome Genetic Risk for Externalizing Disorders

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Imagine loving someone, having children with that person, and then realizing that you’ve gotten yourself involved in an abusive relationship.

Imagine suspecting that your partner, the mother or father of your children, has a personality disorder — and then hearing that personality disorders are highly genetic. If you’re a therapist, imagine this person is your client. What do you do?

I believe we can and should intervene in the lives of children who are at risk of developing externalizing disorders, such as ADHD, conduct disorder, oppositional defiant disorder, and substance use disorders. If we do, we may be able to prevent these children from developing personality disorders as adults.

When we study large numbers of people affected by externalizing disorders and personality disorders in particular, we see that about 50 percent of the risk for these disorders is genetic. That means the environment children grow up in, including their interactions with parents, siblings, and peers, also strongly influences the development of the disorder.

With the right environmental influences, genetic risk may be mitigated. Most programs to support victims of partner abuse do not address the issue of genetic risk. If we start early, and if we put a little energy into helping children, both the child and the family can be spared a lot of anguish due to emotional and behavioral problems later on.

By and large, programs that teach parenting skills are good. But for this particular group of children, parenting approaches that emphasize rules, consequences, and discipline, may not be the most effective.

Research is finding that internalizing disorders, such as anxiety and depression, relate to the inhibition system of the brain, whereas externalizing disorders relate to the dopamine reward system.

What we want to do with this group of children is to train their brain reward system to respond to positive rewards — most importantly a loving family and affection. It’s very difficult to train a child to respond to affection in a good way when you’re punishing the child every five minutes for something the child is doing.

Still, love is not enough. We also have to train the child to enjoy doing things that are productive, like work — because life involves work — and hobbies, such as music and sports.

I advocate a two-pronged approach, although one of the prongs of my approach has not been thoroughly researched.

I believe in teaching the parents and the children — in developmentally appropriate language — what genetic risk is about. In the case of externalizing disorders, it involves difficulty with self-control. I think it’s important to teach children, when they show problems with self-control, to identify their issue, and to help them understand that it’s something they can work on. This teaching has not been well researched, but it is similar to cognitive behavioral therapies that are used for children.

The other part of my approach is teaching parents to interact with their children in a positive way and to enjoy their children. Now, I understand that this can be difficult when the children have issues with self-control. But we’re focusing on training that reward system, and if there’s no enjoyment, you cannot train the reward system.

Of course, sometimes the genes express themselves so strongly that no amount of loving parenting can overcome the genetic risk. But if we try, we may be able to save many children from a lifetime of disorder and antisocial behavior. I think the effort is worth it.

7 Things Every Clinician Should Know About Introverts

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It’s not unusual for introverts to run across prejudice, even in the clinical setting. They are encouraged by spouses, bosses, and some therapists to be more “outgoing,” “on,” “cheerful,” and “energetic.” They are told that if they put more effort into what amounts to an extroverted way of being, that they will be happier, enjoy more success at work, and please the people around them.

Susan Cain makes the case in her bestselling Quiet that this bias stems from a culture that is predominated by extroverted ideals coupled with a misunderstanding of what constitutes introversion. As a psychotherapist who’s an introvert, I’ve developed an interest in this topic both personally and professionally. Here are some of the observations I’ve made about my clinical practice.

1. Introversion is normal.

Introversion/extroversion is one of the basic dimensions of personality. A preference for an introverted way of being is normal and includes more time for solitude, not wanting to assert oneself in a self-promotional way at work and other social situations, and a preference for, and even preoccupation with introspection.

Introversion is not synonymous with shyness, depression, or schizoid tendencies. It does, however, overlap with Elaine Aron’s concept of high sensitivity. Introverts are not misanthropes. Most have social skills comparable to extroverts.

Introversion and extroversion exist along a continuum and, according to Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) data, may be normally distributed. Therefore most people (two out of three) will be within one standard deviation of the mean and will have well expressed introvert and extrovert traits. Because of the need to act extroverted in many work and social situations, people who have an introverted center of gravity may wittingly or unwittingly be acting in extroverted manner. Having a better understanding of what it is to be an introvert can empower people to be more authentic and to practice better self-care.

2. You may be an introvert yourself.

Many helping professionals are introverts. They are drawn to counseling work by an interest in the inner workings of the mind and a preference for significant, one-on-one conversations. Even though the work is meaningful, it can be draining. If you are not predominately an extrovert, you will have to work to restore your energy from doing the work to offset exhaustion. Mindfulness can help with this process of energy restoration

3. There are methodological issues measuring introversion.

The most common research method for measuring introversion doesn’t measure introversion but rather the degree of extraversion that is present. Researchers Peter Hills and Michael Argyle are some of the few researchers to identify the anti-introvert bias present in research. They lament, “The view that extroversion is a preferred state has come to be widely accepted among social psychologists. In consequence, introverts are sometimes represented as withdrawn, isolated or lacking social competence, rather than as individuals who seek independence and autonomy.”

4. The culture is biased against introverts

Psychotherapist Ester Schaler Bucholz in her book The Call of Solitude pointed out, “Health professionals are actually not that different from the average person. Like a relative or companion, they may see the self-possessed introspective person as less malleable, less normal.” They differ in how they feel when those skills are expressed and the situations they prefer to express them within. For example, I prefer an in depth conversation to small talk of the cocktail party variety. My appetite for socialization differs in that I feel a strong need for compensatory solitude after most social forays.

5. You probably have a lot of introverts in your clinical practice

Psychotherapist and introvert advocate Laurie Helgoe discusses in her book Introvert Power that introverts are more introspective and curious about their inner life and therefore more prone to present to treatment. This could create a bias since the depressed or anxious introverts are sitting in your consulting room in greater numbers than extroverts with the same degree of symptoms. They don’t have more psychopathology, just more willingness to address it

6. Mindfulness is a powerful tool for introverts

Introspection has its own set of pitfalls: rumination, obsession, and worry. Introverts can get stuck in their stories and may need help getting out of their heads and into the present moment. As the embodied practice of awareness to this moment, mindfulness is an ideal fit for introverts. Mindfulness meditation practice can help them (and everyone) to better navigate the interior dimensions of the mind to foster creative imagination while mitigating rumination.

7. Introverted ways of being can be helpful for introverts and extroverts alike

As a culture, we have gotten out of balance and squeezed quiet and solitude out of our lives. This, no doubt, contributes to the stressfulness of life. We work longer hours, devote more time to children, and have access to 24/7 information and social media. Mindfulness meditation can help to restore quiet solitude in everyone’s lives. Extroverts can benefit from more quiet; introverts desperately need it.

Why We Should Care About Adoption Rehoming

“A sick thing”. “Human trafficking in children”. “A gaping loophole with life threatening outcomes”. These are just few of the ways experts, legislators and judges have named unregulated private transfers of child custody, a practice referred to as re-homing.

Private re-homing occurs when adoptive parents transfer the custody of a child bypassing official channels. In such cases, parental authority is transferred with a simple Power of Attorney to non-family members.

Very often these people are perfect strangers whose parenting abilities have not been screened by child welfare authorities or, worse, have been judged so poor that their biological children have been taken away by child protection services.

According to an investigation published by Reuters in 2013, hundreds of children are victims of re-homing in the USA every year. 70 percent of them are children adopted from abroad.

“Rehoming can be an appropriate change of placement for a child if it is done with court approval and with home study that look at the needs of the child and the child’s best interests,” said Stephen Pennypacker, a senior child welfare expert and current President of the Partnership for Strong Families, in an interview.

However, the problem with private rehoming is that it is not done with that oversight and the necessary background screening on the prospective placement. “This can lead to some pretty horrific consequences for children that are moved under those circumstances,” Pennypacker said.

One such case happened in Arkansas in 2014, when a six-year-old girl was sexually abused by a man who had obtained her custody via a private re-homing procedure. The case received intense scrutiny only last February as the media reported that the adoptive father who gave the little girl away was a state legislator, Justin Harris.

Arkansas has since then passed two laws to prevent this practice, becoming the fifth state to have regulated it. A few other states are slowly discussing bills to this effect, while no federal law regulates it.

In a court decision in the State of New York last December, Judge Edward W. McCarty III defined the practice “unmistakably trafficking in children” and called on the Legislature to amend domestic law to prohibit this “unsavory and unsupervised practice”.

This judgment came to no surprise to Mary-Ellen Turpel-Lafond, British Columbia Representative for Children and Youth. “Rehoming sounds like a positive experience that is looking at the best interests of the child, but actually it simply transfers a child to another person without any required review by child welfare, family judges, or other officials. So it could be easily a cover for trafficking in children.”

Other child experts echo the concerns about the risks that unregulated re-homing poses to a child’s wellbeing, although they do not consider re-homing as trafficking because parents do not move children to exploit them, but to get rid of them. “All under the table dealing on children’s matters entails risks of exploitation,” said Michael Moran, INTERPOL Assistant Director, Human Trafficking and Child Exploitation, in a phone interview. “Unregulated re-homing creates opportunities for sex offenders. If loopholes exist, sex offenders will use them.”

Reasons that push parents to resort to private re-homing vary from case to case. The most common explanation given by parents engaging in such a practice is that they feel overwhelmed by the behavioral problems of their adopted children. They also claim that the support they receive from child welfare authorities to deal with difficult adoption cases is inadequate. In another case, parents may fear to be charged with child abandonment if they seek to transfer custody to the state. Financial considerations may also play a role because certain states accept taking a child under their custody only on the condition that parents pay for the child’s care until a new adoption takes place.

Some state and federal authorities have acknowledged these problems and are trying to address them. State legislation has been adopted in Arkansas to strengthen post-adoption services and allow parents to give children back to the state’s care if they have exhausted the available resources – although no definition of what these resources are is provided. At the federal level, the US President’s 2016 budget contains a proposal that would guarantee federal funding for prevention and post-placement services.

Whether such initiatives will suffice to prevent rehoming is an open question, though, in particular as the practice remains largely lawless in the USA. So far, only five states – Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Louisiana, and Wisconsin – have adopted legislation to prevent re-homing. Five other states – Maine, Maryland, Nebraska, New York, and North Carolina – are discussing bills to this effect.

“This kind of regulatory void is enormously concerning,” said Jacqueline Bhabha, professor of the practice of health and human rights at Harvard School of Public Health. “Clearly, we need much tighter regulation and more supervising and support to families.”

Children Who Experience Early Childhood Trauma Do Not ‘Just Get Over It’

Humans are relatively adaptable beings which is why we are thriving and not dying out like other species. Horrendous disasters such as the Philippines typhoon, the Boxing Day Tsunami, the nuclear disaster in Japan, the major wars of our time, and horrific famines see great suffering, but these events also inspire survival through adaptation. It turns out we possess a strong survival mechanism in our brains directly linked to our bodies, fight, flight, freeze, flop and friend (fffff).

In fact, the survival part of our brain, which is primitive yet effective, is the first to develop in utero starting at around 7 weeks. It regulates our breathing, digestive system, heart rate and temperature, along with the ‘fffff’ system which operates to preserve our life.

If we have to dodge a falling object, jump out of the path of a speeding car, keep very still to avoid being seen, run for the hills from a predator, or get someone potentially threatening ‘onside’ we need this to happen fast. If a baby is scared, cold, hungry, lonely, or in any way overwhelmed, this triggers their survival system and they cry to bring an adult to them to help them survive.

If a baby is repeatedly scared and emotionally overwhelmed and they do not get their survival brain soothed, so they can cope, they begin to develop a brain and bodily system which is on hyper alert and the World seems to be a scary place. Sadly, this is not something they can ‘just grow out of’. Far from it as what neuroscience is showing us from all the recent findings. An early experience has a profound effect on the way in which a child’s brain forms and operates as the survival brain is on overdrive and senses threats everywhere so works too hard, too often, for too long.

Babies and young children systems are flooded with potent stress hormones which help in the event of needing the 5 fffff’s, but they are not good to have at high levels for too long. Imagine the feeling when you truly believe you have lost your wallet with all your cards and money in it. You feel a bit faint, your brain is whirring, your heart is racing, your breathing is shallow, and you may get the urge to empty your bowels or bladder. Hopefully, this may only last for the usual 45 minute cycle for those who are not traumatised.

Then, stress hormone levels drop and you can think more clearly and resume your day fairly unscathed. What if you are 4, 9 or 15 years old? How will you cope if your repetitive early childhood trauma of living with domestic violence, unavailable or rough carers, chaos and unpredictability has left you traumatised?

As I referred to at the start, humans are amazingly adaptable in order to survive, although not necessarily thrive. So a child’s system adapts to get whatever basic needs met it can and to live to the next moment, think the soldier in a war zone kind of survival. In an abusive environment, this will make sense but it is not something a child can just stop doing as their survival brain is in charge and has to do what it has learnt to keep them alive.

The kinds of survival behaviours they commonly develop are:

Regression

Presenting as helpless may have made carers frustrated, even angry and rough with them but will mean they sometimes had to touch a child who presented as unable to say get dressed or wipe their bottom or feed themselves – this can look like immaturity and ‘babyish’ behaviour in an 8 year old but it has previously served a purpose

Being held and touched kindly is a basic human need and tragically children in Romanian orphanages who were not, died. Almost ‘pathetically’ children often devise ways which can seem strange, given their age and previous capabilities, to get some physical contact, even if it’s unpleasant

Children often learn to survive by being ‘like a baby’ as they have either learnt how babies get more kindness and attention or have some in-built ‘memory’ of this. However, ‘acting like a baby’ can be negatively viewed as regression, yet it is often an expression of trust in carers as they feel safe enough post abuse to seek out kindness from them. These behaviours need to be handled gently until the child is ready to move on. Imagine you had never experienced physical closeness and gentle touch, but you were driven to seek it out which requires real courage.

Dramatic reactions

When a child is in the ‘I’ve lost my keys’ panic state most of the day, it’s like a pan boiling on the stove and the smallest extra heat causes it to boil over

The survival brain leaps into action at the slightest thing, an accidental shove from another child, a small scratch on the arm, a lost pencil, a ‘look’ from another child and the 5 fffff’s are triggered, for most children that’s flight but if cornered and unable to escape, or previously overused, it will be a fight.

Children may cry more readily and for much longer and louder as they do not have the ability to self soothe or to be soothed easily as their brain has not been exposed to this and is not wired that way so telling them to ‘calm down’ is of no use

They are feeling things as deeply as they seem to be at this point and are not just ‘attention seeking’

Disassociation

Disassociation or ‘zoning out’ is another way the brain and body cope with high levels of potentially toxic stress hormones for overly long periods. It can also be a learnt survival strategy, submit, switch off and wait for the frightening, painful, incomprehensible act to be over. This ability to switch off can look like defiance or non-compliance as a child may just stare ahead and not respond to requests from adults

Children cannot continuously cope with the muscle tension, nausea, thudding heart, racing thoughts so finding something to fixate on to soothe them can become a great coping strategy and again will look as if they are being non-compliant whereas they are escaping from their trauma the only way they know how.

How long until they do ‘get over it?’

It’s a fair question as to why it’s so hard for traumatised children to trust caring adults. If they were removed from the abuse and trauma as a baby or even directly after birth, surely they should not be having these dramatic reactions?

Going back to our survival part of our brain, this is not designed to be the dominant part of anyone’s brain as we also have an emotional memories part and a thinking, reasoning, socially able cognitive part which should mostly be ‘in charge’. All three areas are interlinked and share info back and forth all the time but mostly we need to think before we act and then we do better. However, if your start in life has made your survival brain ‘hyper alert’ then to manage this is like repeatedly trying to get a squirrel into a matchbox!

Children need us to be calm, kind, to use rhythm, patience and to try to step into their world and emotional state and show empathy. As practitioners, it can be helpful to research ways of supporting traumatised children, pushing for appropriate training and most importantly being very aware of the extra strain that comes with working with and caring for traumatised children. However, with the right long term acceptance, kindness and support children can get a better chance at eventually being able to manage their reactive survival brain which has, after all, got them this far. 

Should Kids Have to Keep Themselves Safe?

Recently, Violence Free Waitakere (VFW), in West Auckland NZ, launched “‘Jade Speaks Up’, a new multimedia resource to help keep children safe from violence.” The media release said, “The resource aims to help children put safety strategies in place to support themselves, should they feel afraid in their lives whether from bullying, natural disasters, adult threats or witnessing grown-ups fighting.”

Jade Speaks Up
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Natural disasters aside, because none of us can control those, the question has to be asked, “Are we at the all-time social low that kids, “aged 7-12 years,” now have to take responsibility for keeping themselves safe from violence and bullying?” That’s what adults were supposed to do when I was a little boy.

All kudos to Elaine Dyer and her team at VFW for a job well done. It’s a nice 8 minutes of animated characters on real-life backgrounds, catchy music, with guides and resources for teachers, parents, therapists, and social workers to facilitate sessions with children on self-preservation.

But goodness, what a sad indictment it is on us, as adults. We must finally admit we can no longer trust ourselves and each other to fulfill one of the most important roles of adults — child protection.

The countless and growing statistics and news reports attest to it: we’ve got so bad at looking after kids, the least we can do is help them look after themselves. If this saves one kid from hiding, and it’s worth its weight in gold.

I know, I’m preaching to the converted if you’re reading this. But, like me, I hope you’re holding out for Elaine and VFW to release “Jade Doesn’t Have to Speak Up.”

Domestic Violence is Witnessed by Children Far More Than We Know

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Imagine a child watching domestic violence between their parents. It’s not a stretch to think of how scary that must be for her – the people who are supposed to love and protect her are showing just the opposite. One would hope that external forces would come to play that would help change that. But a new piece of research about to be published in the journal Psychology of Violence tells us that the chances of intervention are far less than most of us would hope for.

Researcher Sherry Hamby from The University of the South comes out with some powerful statistics. In more than a third of the cases that her team researched, the physical injury occurred yet only one in four cases resulted in a police report. Children were hurt in about one in 75 cases. As Dr. Hamby notes, there is a link between witnessing domestic violence and childhood mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression, becoming a victim in teenage dating, and diminished success at school. There is also a link between domestic violence and bullying.

As I read this material, I was reminded of a 9-1-1 tape that I heard some years ago while undergoing some training. The tape is chilling. You hear a young girl desperately seeking the help of the police while her mother’s partner is assaulting her mother. At one point the child screams out to her mother that the police are coming. Her mother tells her essentially to shut up invalidating the efforts that the child is making to get help. The mother was right at one level as the threat of imminent arrival by the police may have caused the assailant to be even more violent. But the desperation in the child’s voice is one of those moments that stick with you.

In the world of child protection, we must recall that we tend to see only the more significant cases or the ones where the child has either managed the courage to disclose or, more often, does so accidentally. In reality, a disclosure will rarely be evidence that a single event of domestic violence occurred. The child has likely witnessed far more.

Hamby’s research goes further. It tells us that we must let go of the notion that domestic violence is a curse of the lower incomes and rooted in poverty. Her research found that 28% occurred in households with annual incomes under $20,000; 30% in households earning $20,000-50,000; 18% in the $50,000-75,000 bracket and 24% with incomes about $75,000. Domestic violence is an equal opportunity curse it would seem.

In my own work, I have seen frightened children scared to tell what goes on in their households. Worse, however, are the children who feel that there is nothing to report because it is so normal. Either way, when child protection becomes involved, we must remember that involving the criminal justice system is important as a way to hold the assailant accountable. But that does not make the journey better.

The victims – the other caregiver or parent and the children all need to learn how to create a new normal over time that includes health, safety, and respect along with a different set of problem solving skills. Just getting the assailant out of the house does not make it better. Supports are needed long term – remember that most women need between 8-12 times before they will leave a domestically violent relationship for good. Imagine the impact on the children.

Hackney Child – An Interview with Jenny Molloy

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Hackney Child

Hackney Child is a riveting book about the challenges a child encounters growing up in the care system. The book is based on the true life events of author Jenny Malloy who uses the pen name Hope Daniels and written with Morag Livingstone.

I had the opportunity to interview Jenny in order to get a first hand account of how writing this book has transformed her life. Jenny tells a tale of resilience and courage, but also one of the system failures and needed programs to help families function better.

According to the Hackney Child’s website,

“Hackney Child is a shocking reminder of what some children are subjected to as they grow up. The scars can last a lifetime and there is no certainty they will ever heal. The best way is always to fight back. Hope Daniels has done this and displayed great courage in reliving the events of her childhood through this manuscript. I wish her all the success in the world’ Hackney Child offers a supportive Advice and Training role which will remind Social Workers why they chose the vocation of Social Work, and why Looked After Children are so special.

SWH: Tell us about your thought processes and decision to write Hackney Child, and how did you go about the process?

JM: This is such a big question! My thoughts on writing Hackney Child was that I was very very scared about being judged. I was adamant that I would remain anonymous, and this is why I have a pen name, Hope Daniels. I was absolutely paranoid that my mum would hate me for doing this but decided to write it with Morag and decided we would go ahead at the end.

I went through a massive rollercoaster of emotions and feelings throughout – and had to take a couple of months off at one point, as you see, when writing Hackney Child, I was totally transported back in a way that I had never experienced before. I found myself reflecting on my childhood, and my experience in Care, and whilst it was cathartic, it was also extremely painful. Myself and Morag had 1-1 interviews, I sent writing, we used my SS Files, and Morag interviewed 1 person who had applied to foster me. We spent much time sending writing between us until we got the story right.

SWH: As a result of your book and experiences, have you been engaged with the thought leaders within the social care UK system to implement changes or improvements for children who are cared for?

JM: Yes, in so many ways, and continue to do so. I was influential in producing the Care Leavers Charter, endorsed and implemented through the Care Leavers Foundation, Care Leavers, and the Children’s Minister, Edward Timpson. I am currently working alongside OFSTED, Martin Narey – Government TSAR on LAC, The Chief Social Worker, and many thought leaders in Scotland, including the Scottish Government.

I have also devised a training programme based on my own recovery from my childhood and addiction, and have been sharing with Local Authorities. It has received a response which I didn’t expect, one of enthusiasm, passion to carry the learning’s through to direct work, and an understanding of what it is really like to live through an abusive childhood, a life in care, and then life as a care leaver.

My time working with frontline social workers, Care Leavers and kids currently in the system is what drives me to work within the policy world. I have met huge number of inspirational kids and professionals, that when the going gets tough, and my frustrations at changes not happening quick enough, motivate me to stick at it.

SWH: What are some of the biggest challenges you face in doing outreach to practitioners/providers and children who are in long term care?

JM: Accepting the flaws in the system, and accepting that I cannot rescue the kids.

SWH: What is your mission and vision for Hackney’s Child, and what do you hope to ultimately accomplish?

JM: My mission is to make the UK Care System a place where LAC are loved, protected and successful.

There will always be a need for safe secure and loving places for some children to be cared for away from their birth families; to enable this Hackney Child strives to:

  • Ensure all children in care are safe and protected by those who care for them
  • Every child in care is expected to succeed, and receives the emotional and practical support to do so.
  • All children in care receive equal opportunity to recover from trauma experienced.
  • Those acting as corporate parents understand and take personal responsibility for developing and safeguarding the children they care for.

My ultimate goal is for the shocking statistics around Care Leavers, homelessness, drug addiction, offending, revolving door prisoner sentences and repeating, at times, the cycle of Care for their children to be seen as a failure, of the system, that served to rescue them, and the fire in your belly anger that should be aroused at these statistics by the policy makers raises itself, and changes happen.

It’s too easy to blame front line staff, who, in my personal view, are passionate, caring, skilled people who have an inner vocation to change children’s lives

SWH: Most importantly, what is your life like now, and have you found a sense of peace through your work and writing?

JM: My life is beautiful. I had no idea who I was, how I could ever have a life away from the pain, shame and guilt that I had carried for so many years, which I have discovered through Hackney Child and my direct work with the “Care System’, wasn’t mine to carry. I was a child.

I have worked through strategies on dealing with the sorrow that comes over me at times, together with the flashbacks of my childhood, some which are forever new and haven’t come to me in years, and now use these strategies with the children and young people that I work with.

I have 2 wonderful kids, now grown up, a husband who helped me to accept my character assets, and a beautiful, content granddaughter, who will never have to experience a mother with the pain that her grandmother had.

I’m now proud to say that I was raised in the Care System, and not ashamed to say that my family consists of people who were my social workers and care home staff. I love them and they love me. My family is now free from my past.

Boy Scouts Ban Obese Kids From National Jamboree

BSA-Jamboree-logoThe Boy Scouts of America (BSA) National Jamboree is currently taking place in the beautiful and exciting mountains of West Virgina, at the Summit Bechtel Reserve. The National Jamboree, a scout outing highly regarded as the penultimate scouting excursion takes place every 4 years with around 30,000 youth participants.

Events at the Jamboree include activities like hiking, zip lining, rock climbing, rafting, live concerts, games, and more. However, for the past two years, BSA has implemented a new policy regarding standards of admittance to the 10 day scouting adventure.

The new standard bans children with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of over 40 from being accepted to the Jamboree, and imposes further requirements on accepted children with BMI’s of 32 or higher, considered the cut off for obesity by the Center For Disease Control and Prevention. Even if a child, considered by the CDC standards to be obese, passes the additional scrutiny and is admitted into the program, there is no guarantee that they will be able to participate in its entirety.

The Jamboree itself not only has a BMI cutoff, but individual events within the trip also have BMI restrictions. BMI is a mathematical computation that takes into account only an individual’s height and weight. The measurement may be useful in helping physicians generally track the health of their patients, but it does not take into consideration body type, activity level, or other factors that may affect an individual’s ability to participate in high intensity physical activities.

CNN’s living well expert Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician in Atlanta, worries that the new standards are discriminatory, saying when she completes forms for patients to participate in summer camps or trips similar to the Jamboree that she takes into consideration many factors aside from BMI, including the child’s perception of their own abilities. Dr. Shu said that organizations like BSA, and other camps and organizations should be encouraging children to be physically active, and that the BMI cutoff is not the way to do it.

The new policy, according to Deron Smith, Director of Public Relations for BSA, as quoted by CNN,  “is not meant to keep anyone out at all, and it’s just to make sure that they’re safe…We offer thousands of summer camp experiences (that) do not have this requirement.” the Boy Scouts new healthy living initiative has helped inspire children and adults across the country to lose weight and live healthier lifestyles according to Mr. Smith, however, there are many who find the BSA’s BMI cut off for the jamboree to be taking their initiative to far.

jamboree-registration-scoutsThe National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance feels that the program not only discriminates against children but that it perpetuates stereotypes and bias based on weight. The organization asks that BSA determine admittance to the Jamboree not based on a blanket BMI cutoff, but on their participation as an active scout. BSA is unsure of how many children the new policy affected as children not meeting the requirement did not apply.

So should children be prevented from participating in certain activities because of their size? Safety is certainly a priority for any organization or group planning trips or activities for children, but what is the best way to determine child participation in high intensity physical activities?

To read the original CNN article click here.

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