These two brain scans come from Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D., of the Baylor College of Medicine. The image on the left is a CT scan of a normal healthy three year old child, average in head size, intellect etc. and the image on the right is the brain of a three year old child suffering from severe sensory neglect.
I was shocked by the contrast in these images. I hadn't realised that neglected children were affected mentally in a literal, physical, neurological way by what had happened to them. I suppose I vaguely imagined their main problems were due to bad example and lack of love and so on.
The poor little child in the slide is an extreme example, admittedly, but the truth is that there are actual neurological consequences to neglect in children. In particular, there are fewer connections in the brain than there should be, and the bits of the brain that enable us to understand where other people are coming from, to have empathy, to have sensitivity to the complex feelings of people around us, don't get the chance to develop very well in the neglected child. These children are therefore biologically more likely to end up behaving in an anti-social manner in the future as they don't understand the effects on other people's feelings of their actions.
I want to encourage anyone who is involved in working with young children in any way that all the time you give is worthwhile. I used to be involved as a volunteer in helping to run a parent and toddler group and my really wonderful friends Gillian and Norma are faithfully still involved, and have been since their own fourteen year olds were babies.
These early years are so critical.
This is a concern to me in Prisonworld too. It seems to me that huge resources should be devoted to parenting classes for prisoners (and perhaps their partners too, in some circumstances). So many of our prisoners had really appalling childhoods, as the children of alcoholics, drug addicts, neglectful or abusive parents. Also, many were in care as children and/or are the sons of parents who were themselves in prison. I have heard some stories that are so horrendous I nearly wept to hear them.
We need, as a society, to do all we can to break this dreadful cycle.
But cynically, I suspect that the problem is that there are no votes in this. It's too long term, isn't it? It's about sowing seeds now that might bear fruit in eighteen years. In party political election terms, that's too far in the future...