Sunday, 27 April 2014

Policy and children's brains

I have to say I found Zoe Williams’ article in the Guardian on the subject of young children’s brains a bit frustrating. She argues that neuroscience – in particular brain scans of neglected children - has had an important role in defining early years and child protection policies in the UK and elsewhere. She says that the claim that a child's brain can be irrevocably damaged during the first three years of life shapes government policy on adoption and early intervention. And she argues that there are some important doubts about whether the science behind the claims can withstand critical scrutiny. 

I think that the mistake may be in trying to justify early-in-life-intervention with neuroscience, thus risking losing the argument if the science turns out to be wrong. You don’t need to be a neuroscientist (or for that matter a Bowlby or a Freud) to know that very young children who are abused and neglected suffer horribly as a result and that some of the consequences of the abuse may be longstanding. Early-in-life-intervention is really self-justifying – it is a moral and social evil to allow very young children to be abused and neglected in the hope that their parents will eventually stop - and, even if the scans of children’s brains turn out to be misleading, that would be no reason to conclude that  stopping abuse and neglect at the earliest possible moment should not continue to be at the heart of policy.