Before It’s Too Late: Neuropsychological Consequences of Child Neglect and Their Implications for Law and Social Policy
Recent developments in the neurosciences have led to dramatic breakthroughs in the area of brain development and the understanding of consequences of neglect. Because this process was heretofore not understood, legislators have been wary of drafting child protection statutes that afforded the possibility for arbitrary interference with families. Strict statutory standards have been adopted that allow coercive intervention only in cases where the child is at substantial risk of imminent physical harm, or after some of the most severe consequences of neglect have been identified. These laws do not consider developmental harm because it does not present an imminent danger of physical injury, yet such harm will affect a child throughout life.
Current understanding of brain development demonstrates the need for proper nutrition and stimulation during the first three years of life in order for the brain to develop the crucial neurological networks that are foundational to the functioning of an individual. The inadequacy of early brain development has permanent and irreversible consequences, leading to problems in physical, cognitive, emotional, and social domains. Costs to individuals and society as a result of these consequences are generally overlooked.
Public policy should be based on current knowledge of brain development and its significant impact on adult functioning. Major preventive efforts must be applied and made available to every child. The focus of these efforts must be child-centered and seen as a basic form of education.