While the connection between free school lunches and domestic violence prevention may not be obvious, it is strong nonetheless. The Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence applauds the Indiana schools who have taken the steps to ensure each student has adequate nutrition during the school day and hope to see more follow their lead.
We acknowledge that there is divided opinion, including from legislators, about whether this is a productive use of our resources. However, ICADV has championed this, and other school policies focused on promoting students’ social and emotional wellbeing because we see its importance as a protective factor against violence.
In a study conducted by the American Psychological Association among low-income children, those classified as “hungry” exhibited 7 to 12 times as many symptoms of conduct disorder — from having problems with a teacher to fighting and stealing — than their at-risk or not-hungry peers.
Those children are at a greater risk of experiencing behavioral and emotional problems, which could include impulsiveness, difficulty getting along with others (leading to social isolation), and aggression. They also may experience intense feelings of anxiety, depression and low self-esteem.
These adverse effects extend past school, into their lives. Many of the aforementioned consequences of childhood hunger are identified by the Center for Disease Control as risk factors for being involved in multiple forms of violence as an adult, including intimate partner violence.
Research consistently tells us that safe, stable, nurturing relationships and environments are essential to prevent perpetration and victimization of violence as an adult. Free school lunches are therefore one of the best investments we could make as a community.
As far as parental responsibility, many parents experience guilt and shame related to food assistance, for not being able to provide food for their children. Social stigma is among the most prevalent barriers to food access. Currently, 1 in 4 SNAP-eligible individuals does not apply for benefits, often citing feelings of shame.
Unfortunately, when both children and their parents are made to feel shame and inadequacy, they may behave in abusive ways to try to regain some sense of strength and control in their lives. By offering lunches to everyone, we reduce the stigma surrounding free lunch programs and create an environment where everyone can thrive.
If you are facing issues related to food insecurity, visit in211.communityos.org to be connected to resources in your community.