Brazil's ambitious anti-poverty initiative engages its youngest citizens

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The key cause of poverty is not having decent wage jobs available. There is not an infinite pool of Google middle-management positions sitting unfilled because kids didn’t “get enough eye contact”, something I guarantee you every child born into poverty in Brazil got a shit ton more of than your average Xbox-fused middle class US suburbanite kid.


I agree with Ratel. I am a linguistic anthropologist, and this is not the first time I have seen this kind of thing. This “new research” is really just warmed up discrimination. Lots of people have grown up with all kinds of different caregiver interactions and been just fine. If you want to say something about engaging citizens in Brazil, I suggest trying “Insurgent Citizenship” by James Holsten (sp?)j.


You beat me to it. I frequently see parents posting online looking for daycare for babies only two months old. If the centers don’t have a lot of staff, I doubt those kids will get a lot of eye contact either. Also, they get into looking at screens at a young age. A friend of mine is the grandparent of a toddler whose favorite toy is a smartphone.


Wage slavery is hardly a solution to the problem. If labor organized self-management then they can can expect proper professional careers at all levels. Rather than everyone fighting for a handful of upper middle class office jobs.


So true. “It can’t be our perfect economic system…it must be black people doing it wrong.”


This is incredibly patronizing. Poor parents not giving eye contact?

Did you ever see a rural Brazilian family with their children? Whatever the problem eye contact is not it.

If only I could think of … ah, yes, of course! No access to land or other ways to create a living, no real access to education, no real health care … might be bigger problems than the eye contact and ordinary family love that’s lavished on these kids anyway.


It is, however, exactly what you can expect out of the current administration. At least until they can drop the veneer of civil society.


New research suggests that a key cause of poverty is poor parents’ lack of engagement with neonates and toddlers.

I’d have liked to know a lot more about this research. But maybe it is real, valid, and shows some effect on poverty derived from ‘poor parenting’ (shorthand for what is described). Whilst one key cause of poverty may be lack of employment opportunities - as per your stated opinion, which I’d agree with if it had been characterised as ONE of the causes - my own opinion is that many people do lack what is needed, and study after study suggests that kids who show up in school at whatever age school starts in your locale (e.g. 4-5 here in UK) unable to talk in sentences, sit still, respond to an adult’s attention (an instruction or request), or ask to go to the toilet, consistently underperform throughout their school careers, leave school unqualified and under-educated, and guess what their lives turn out like. Early intervention has been demonstrated to work, not only for the kids, but it breaks a self-perpetuating cycle of poverty. And I’m not giving the parents a pass, either, but let’s ask WHY don’t they instinctively have better parenting skills? Maybe if they had little eye contact when babies, the poverty of which we speak is not merely monetary, yet perpetuates both itself and it’s cousin-corollary, financial poverty.

And isn’t lack of eye contact actually a broadly accepted key cause of poor infant development?

I was tempted to seek citations ref ‘study after study’ or ‘widely accepted’. I’ve read more than a few press articles on this in respectable papers, but you’ve noted no evidence of your opening statement, so let’s just leave it as an exchange of opinions. But I would not be so dismissive of this approach, nor would I rely merely on enough jobs solving the problem, because even with jobs, kids like this deserve better lives than they inherit as a result of their parents’ neglect, whether accidental or otherwise.

ETA ref other comments after Ratel’s, I am talking generally. We do see this here in UK, for sure. Brazilian rural parents may not have a problem. It may, instead, be discrimination, in Brazil. But lack of early eye contact and other developmental disadvantages have been showing up in schools here for a long time, represented by the things I described. Such dysfunction does not get fixed by having more jobs.


Weird; I could have sworn that human greed and the gross inequality of resources and opportunity is what causes poverty…


I hate when posts like this come along and nearly 100% of the responses are basically “Fuck science!”

Early childhood education and fostering are critical to development. The phrase “The years before five last the rest of their lives” is literally touted by the government here in literature. And that’s in the developed world.

It’s attitudes like “All this new research is bullshit” that genuinely have me worried that we will literally never move beyond the 20th century viewpoints on mental health, early childhood education, and the like. Because there’s 0 public trust in such research anymore.

I weep for a future that looks the same as the present.


Oh, it may be worse than that. The future jobs that others above see as the solution, will (if/when they eer emerge) probably need ever higher levels of education/competence/life skills/adaptability/whatever. Unless we fix root causes, the gaps that represent the fractures in our society will grow, for sure.

That I truly agree with; and I’m all for people interacting with young kids in a positive manner… I just don’t see it as a valid resolution to ending poverty, unless the known systemic causes of poverty are also resolved at the same time.


I don’t hear these comments saying “Fuck Science” so much as, “Fuck Capitalism”. Science in the service of capitalism may still be valid, even if the wrong people are being served.

(I wish someone had coached my parents back when it could have made a difference!)


Is lack of eye contact really the problem? I’ve been in poor villages where babies and young children seem to have a huge amount of engagement with their moms and all the other adults. Many other posters suggest capitalism and inequality is the problem. Really? Full socialism was tried in Cuba and terrible inequalities remain. I know, Cuba suffered from the US hurting its economy. What about Venezuela? Did socialism, funded by an ocean of oil, help poor children in villages? What about Argentina, which seemed to go from a successful first world capitalist country to more of a failure as it shifted to socialism?

One highly consistent theme I’ve noticed in all these plans, whether it’s Head Start, or the Millennium Villages Project in Africa, or many others, is they get a lot of announcements about how exciting they are and how much progress they’re going to make, and then in the end the results are nothing, the excited donors and theorists are embarassed, and they fade away and nothing is different. Maybe this problem is intractable? Where’s the success?

It struck me as a bit of the Maoist education reforms (post Intellectual Purge, kthx) where proximal-age people teach novices: BRIC writ CIBR, where the toolchain for renting stuff everywhere is making commensurate startups in every manufacturing nation (plus the Philippines, everything being a side-deal and a green front plus a guest(sic?) nation.)

So 7 year olds can teach 4 year olds to side-eye their family while holding a rooted voice-assistant screen-akimbo and raising axolotl, frogs and snakes for fun; bootstrapping methodologies through grades until everyone has the knack (or contrarily, knows how to work nursing bras?) :confounded:


Are you alright, Floss? I could almost understand that, you’re not at your normal level.


It’s not really a question of saying “fuck science”.

Rather, the issue here would seem to be the element of victim-blaming in this program’s formulation. Look at the riverside communities in which the social workers arrive in one of the videos. Are these people poor because their parents never gave eye contact?

Or are they poor because of the infrastructure, ressources, education and medical services that’s available to them? Rural Brazil, I will add as a service to those who might not know, is known for a rich tradition of songs, stories, religious practices and other cultural elements which could hardly be transmitted if the parents did not know how to engage with their children.

In other words, while parents’ lack of engagement with their children can obviously cause a lot of problems and some parents therefore could indeed be in need of coaching, such lack of engagement and need of coaching could never be a primary cause of poverty in a country like Brazil with its monumental inequality and vastly deficient infrastructure.

Thus, the program “Criança feliz” has been heavily criticized by professionals in Brazil - among other things, for defunding existing & actually working programs for the improvement of poor people’s lives through infrastructure and services and replacing them with charity based on unpaid volunteers.

Which is also why the Brazilian Council of Social Workers (CFESS) is completely against this project spearheaded by the nation’s first lady, Marcela Temer.

Like I said, it’s not a question of criticizing the science. I have no doubt that in some cases, people have their outcomes afflicted by parents who don’t know to engage with them. I’ve no doubt that you can find parents in poor communities in Brazil, or in rich communities in Europe, who’d benefit from such coaching. However, to posit such parental engagement deficits as the reason for poverty in a country like Brazil, to the extent that coaching could eliminate poverty in future generations, is simply nonsensical. And, as I said, to some extent victim-blaming.


More like “fuck racist/sexist/classist abuse of science/pseudoscience”.

Is eye contact important in infant development? Yes. Is this the cause of poverty in Brazil? No.

I’m sure that there are correlations between poverty and relative lack of parent-infant interaction, BTW. Can you think of any other reasons besides ignorance that might explain why desperately poor parents have less time to invest on their children?


Given the discussions about this program’s merits and scientific relevance, I think I’d like to recapitulate what it actually does (source):

  • It consists of a visiting programme where vulnerable families receive one visit, lasting about one hour (45 minutes in BBC’s example), every week, fortnight or month.
  • These visits may be offered to families with children under three years old, in special cases to be extended to six.
  • The programme is to be implemented by the municipalities - it is, however, voluntary for them.
  • The federal government reimburses municipalities with R$65 ($17) per child in the programme. (This will not cover costs of using municipal employees.)
  • The programme (the visits) is supposed to be executed by non-employees of the municipalities - volunteers or third sector parties.
  • Visitors will be given one week of training before they start.
  • As of last year, the programme was active in about 6% of Brazilian cities. The ministry’s page about the programme hasn’t been updated for a very long time, so presumably it hasn’t expanded greatly since then. (Does anyone have updated numbers?)

This is actually, as it happens, definitely not “The world’s most ambitious parenting program”.

It reminds me a lot of what the British charity Home Start is doing. The idea of weekly (or less-frequent) visits to vulnerable families is definitely not bad, but Home Start’s experiences are less - exhilarating - that what these videos seem to imply. Also, since the program is practically devoid of funding, there’s not really money to have professionals travel far and walk five hours in the sun to get to the remotest corner.

The idea is, in other words, not bad in and of itself - but just as Home Start in the UK never actually brought any family out of poverty (even if they did help many through hard times), a weekly visit is also unlikely to achieve that goal in Brazil. Just as in the UK, such visits are also not a valid replacement for actual services.

I.e., the hype of these videos are very far from the actual reality.