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For Immediate Release
Contact: Diana Barnes-Brown, 646-284-9628,

Better programs, policies needed in key transitional years

New York City – Adolescence is a crucial time when children and youth
must meet a range of developmental, emotional, and behavioral goals in
order to grow into healthy adults. But many public policies and
programs aimed at helping disadvantaged children exclude adolescents,
or lack a sufficient level of focus to address their unique needs.

Researchers at Columbia University’s National Center for Children in
Poverty (NCCP) hope to change this, and are working to bring poor and
low-income adolescents’ needs into the spotlight with a new research
emphasis and through the center’s upcoming publications.

According to neuroscientists, brain development during adolescence
creates a set of needs and vulnerabilities that are distinct from
those of either young children or adults.

In particular, mental health, sexual and reproductive health,
substance use, violence and risk-taking behaviors, and nutrition and
obesity are all areas where adolescents may face special challenges or
have unique needs. At the same time, adolescence represents a stage
of development that presents opportunities for quality prevention and
early intervention strategies to be effective.

In 2008, NCCP launched its Adolescent Health and Youth Development
focus, which is designed to promote change in adolescent health care,
support healthy development in adolescents and young adults, and
highlight and address the unique needs of poor and low-income

This month, NCCP demographics analysts also expanded the center’s long-
running Basic Facts series – a set of fact sheets that provide
demographic profiles of children from birth to 18 years of age – to
include a fact sheet specific to adolescents.

According to Ayana Douglas-Hall and Michelle Chau, coauthors of Basic
Facts About Low-income Adolescents: Age 12 to 18, there are more than
10 million low-income adolescents in the nation, and nearly five
million of these are considered poor by federal poverty standards.
(Adolescents are characterized as low-income if their families have an
income of twice the federal poverty level or less, which is the amount
most researchers agree is needed for households to make ends meet.)

“The evidence tells us that adolescents are highly resilient and
receptive to interventions, and they generally want to be positively
engaged, but at the policy level we’re not making the most of these
opportunities,” comments NCCP Research Analyst Susan Wile Schwarz,
project coordinator for the Improving the Odds for Adolescents project.

“There is enormous potential for effective programs to have positive
impact, but the negative consequences of failing to appropriately
support adolescents through policy and programs can also be magnified
for this age group.”

The risk is even greater for poor or low-income adolescents, who are
among the most marginalized in this already neglected age group.

Despite the challenges, Schwarz and the other researchers working
within the adolescent focus are optimistic about the prospect of using
research to inform positive change.

“We all want adolescents to become healthy, productive and
contributing adults,” remarks Schwarz. “By providing key information
on the extent of financial hardship among adolescents in the United
States and its impact on healthy development, as well as describing
the unique challenges all adolescents must overcome, we can spur
interests in changing the policy framework in order to implement
appropriate strategies.”

Improving the Odds for Adolescents was funded by a grant from Atlantic
Philanthropies. To read more about the project, go to
. To download Basic Facts About Low-income Adolescents: Age 12 to 18,
go to

- 30 -

The National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP) is the nation’s
leading public policy center
dedicated to promoting the economic security, health and well-being of
America’s low-income
families and children. Part of Columbia University’s Mailman School
of Public Health, NCCP
uses research to inform policy and practice with the goal of ensuring
positive outcomes for the
next generation.

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