Friday, May 02, 2014

UK: Neuroscience and intervention policy

An interesting debate at the Guardian has caught my attention this morning. In a nutshell the journalist is questioning the neuroscience that finds neglect of babies retards brain development and leads to intervention policies:

Is misused neuroscience defining early years and child protection policy?

The idea that a child's brain is irrevocably shaped in the first three years increasingly drives government policy on adoption and early childhood intervention. But does the science stand up to scrutiny?

A letter was published from a responding Harvard Professor:

Early neglect does affect brain development

The ramifications of policy predicated on science is the real sore point. The journalist concludes with quotes from a critic of intervention, Sue White, but does not describe her capacity or profession:

Attachment is fascinating as an idea; when it hardens into science, which is inchoate but treated as fact, its consequences can be devastating. White concludes: "There is an argument for removing children, a precautionary principle argument. You can say, 'Right, let's remove all children who are in suboptimal parenting situations.' You can do it. Regimes have done that, over the years. But we're not having those debates. What we're having is this misuse of the neuroscientific evidence, to suggest that it's very dangerous for children to be left in certain situations. I'm not talking about leaving them in situations where they're at risk of injury or sexual abuse, more: 'Your mum's in a bit of a mess, she's drinking a bit and not interacting with you optimally and she's also poor, which is why she's not been able to keep the state out of it.' It's only when the children who've been removed grow up, and ask, 'But did anybody try to help my mum?' That's what you would ask, isn't it?"

A reasonable question. But should the child remain in her care whilst she is receiving assistance which may or may not be successful? I am reminded of the approach with Northern Territory Aboriginal children. I may be doing it a disservice but in some cases the parents have been written off and their children put into the care of grandparents. Removal of children is such a difficult area. But the child's interests must trump the parent's in my view. The opposite view puts the parent's - usually the mother's interests and rights - first. But even separating the interests of both is fraught.

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