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The brain function of children who are raised in deprivation is clearly different than that of youngsters brought up in normative environments, according to a study released on Tuesday at the Beersheba Conference for the Child.
Prof. Basil (Boaz) Porter, director of Maccabi Health Servicesâ€š southern district, reported that children from low socioeconomic environments did not have the same emotional activity in their brains as other children.
Porter said that the benefits of economic investment in toddlers were eight times greater than when the investment begins at an older age; thus, starting early is vital. He called on the Finance Ministry to internalize his data and invest more money in preschool youngsters, as it will pay off in the long run.
He conducted (harmless) physiological tests of children using a positron-emission tomography (PET) scanner and found that, even as toddlers, there were clear differences in the functioning of certain brain regions between normative children and those in serious distress, such as those in orphanages.
Until the age of two years, there was still the possibility of changing neural connections in the brain. The researcher said the message of his study was that social and other problems can be prevented as early as preschool with the right investment. It must involve not only health care expenditures, but also investment by the parents, who should encourage their children's verbal development by reading and spending "quality time" with their offspring. Centers for children and parents to work together should also be opened.
Meanwhile, Dr. Kobi Peleg, head of the trauma and emergency medicine research center at the Gertner Institute at Tel Hashomer, said at the conference that six percent of all teenage victims of violence were wounded by firearms. He said that the most common ages for violence and the most serious injuries were between 16 and 18. More than half of teenagers who reached emergency rooms due to violent incidents are wounded by stabbing, and only 27% are wounded in unarmed confrontations.
There is no difference in these statistics, he said, between the Jewish and Arab sectors, though Arab children were more likely to be hurt in the home and its vicinity in accidents and fires.
Dr. Shukri Atallah, head of the pediatrics department at French Hospital in Nazareth, commented at the conference that the lesson of Peleg's research was that home visits should be conducted by the authorities to see where and how children lived.
Dr. Michal Hemmo-Lotem, head of Beterem, the National Center for Child Safety and Health, warned that repeated harm to children and the failure of the authorities to deal with problems brings about an annual increase in the number of injured children brought to emergency rooms. One out of every 11 children will be brought to a hospital emergency room each year if the authorities do not deal with these problems in time, she said.