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Initial Findings: Financial Assistance Helps Infant Children

By Isabel Pulgarin

Photo Credit to The Healthy Mummy

On Feb. 1, research from an ongoing study called “Baby’s First Years” revealed that infants whose mothers receive financial aid experience an increase in brain activity associated with higher intelligence. The research, conducted by researchers from six universities across the U.S., comes right as the program under Biden’s COVID-19 relief package that provided more money to parents expired in January and was voted not to be renewed.


In May 2018, 1,000 new mothers were recruited for the experiment from hospitals in four diverse metropolitan areas–New York City, New Orleans, Omaha, and the Minnesota Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul.


One year later, 40 percent of these mothers were randomly selected to receive an unconditional cash gift of $333 per month for the next four years. The rest were given a lower-value cash gift of $20 per month.


After the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the research, only 435 mothers agreed to have their infant go through the electroencephalography (EEG) data collecting process. EEGs produce data on brain activity.


The researchers found that babies receiving high-cash gifts every month had faster brain waves.

Photo Credit to ICPSR - University of Michigan

Co-author of the study, Dr. Kimberly Noble, professor of neuroscience and education at Teachers College in Columbia University, broke down these EEG readings in a recent interview with NBC news.


According to Noble, young brain activity grows from slow patterns to fast ones called “high-frequency bands,” associated for many years with advanced skill for learning and great social-emotional, cognitive, and language practices as the child grows.


This study demonstrates that financial assistance is not only beneficial for struggling parents, but it also creates a healthier space for child development.


“We have known for many years that growing up in poverty puts children at risk for lower school achievement, reduced earnings, and poorer health,” said Noble.


Social psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at Barry, Dr. Trent Wondra, agreed.


“The bare minimum that children are born into financially is often insufficient and places them at an extreme disadvantage early on,” said Wondra.


Environmental stressors like limited resources and lack of time spent between parent and child have a detrimental effect not only on the parents, but on the children as well.

Photo Credit to Cystic Fibrosis News Today

“A child’s exposure to severe and adverse conditions such as hunger, neglect, violence/ abuse, parent incarceration, [and] substance abuse by the parent may lead to what’s known in the literature as toxic stress,” said Dr. Javier Gonzalez, assistant professor of education at Barry.


“Chronic stress in the early years of a child’s life is shown to negatively impact changes in neural pathways that are essential in learning, memory, and emotional regulation,” said Gonzalez.


He added that financial insufficiencies can lead to lack of school readiness, which highlights the importance of investing in the proper programs to support families.


Before the pandemic, nearly one in five American children lived in poverty, according to Futurity. According to Lisa Gennetian, coauthor and co-principal investigator of the research, the state of poverty for Black, Latino, and other minority communities has been “in limbo” during the pandemic.


“We have learned that support like the stimulus checks and the monthly disbursement of the expanded Child Tax Credit are really helping families with children to buy food or pay rent,” said Gennetian.

Photo Credit to Institute for Research on Poverty

Despite efforts to extend support to these communities, Biden’s proposal for the continual expansion of the Child Tax Credit was shot down in Congress.


Still, struggling families can expect a refund of what was promised under the 2021 Child Tax Credit after filing their 2021 tax returns.

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