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Local Murders Linked to Poor School Performance

Lower scores in reading, verbal tests noted when homicide occurs nearby, study finds

WEDNESDAY, June 16 (HealthDay News) -- Children can score lower on reading and verbal skill tests if there has been a recent murder in their neighborhood, new research has found.

"These findings make clear the impact violence can have on children living in the area, regardless of whether they witness violence directly or are personally victimized. The results suggest that children may carry the burden of violence with them as they take part in daily life within the neighborhood or school settings," Patrick Sharkey, a sociology professor at New York University, said in a university news release.

He analyzed data on reported murders in Chicago from 1994 to 2002 and compared that with information collected through surveys of children and families in Chicago. The study was limited to black and Hispanic children, because whites and other ethnic groups were almost never exposed to local murders in the data samples used in the study, Sharkey explained.

Overall, the study found that black children whose reading and language skills were assessed immediately after a local murder had much lower scores than those of peers who lived in the same neighborhood but were assessed at different times.

When the length of time between the murder and the child's assessment increased beyond a week, the effects of the murder on the child's scores weakened. In addition, the farther away a murder was from a child's home, the less the impact.

While the findings were extremely strong for black children, local murders appeared to have no effect on Hispanic children, a finding that requires further research.

"When one takes into account the prevalence of homicide in the most violent neighborhoods in cities like Chicago, these results mean that some children spend about one week out of every month functioning at a low level as they navigate the home or school environment," Sharkey concluded.

The study was released online June 14 in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Mental Health explains how parents can help their children cope with violence and other traumatic events.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: New York University, news release, June 14, 2010

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