Surveys conducted by the ACLU of Maryland are finding that one way to offset the hidden health consequences of violence is to move families out of troubled neighborhoods.
A three-part series this month in The Baltimore Sun chronicled how community groups and social workers are helping kids learn to manage stress and regulate their emotions as a way to combat some side effects of living in violent neighborhoods. These children often suffer learning and behavioral problems caused by built-up stress hormones that hurt development of the brain.
Findings by the American Civil Liberties Union say that getting kids away from the stress is also a solution.
The ACLU is in the process of surveying families that it helped move out of poor, violent Baltimore neighborhoods as part of a program launched in 2003 after a housing discrimination lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Officials expect to serve up to 4,400 families by 2018.
Those surveyed overwhelmingly said that violence — being around gunfire, worrying their kids would get shot coming home from school — was one of their biggest sources of stress before they relocated.
Since moving, the parents said they feel less stressed and are more hopeful and motivated.
"I think moving saved my family's lives," one parent wrote.
Barbara Samuels, director of the Fair Housing Project at the ACLU, argued in a recent essay in the publication Poverty and Race that more public policy should look at moving kids out of bad environments.
"If we can offer families a real chance to get their children out of harm's way by moving to areas with better schools and health outcomes, how can we fail to act?" she asked.