InBrief: The Science of Neglect

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>>SHONKOFF: Everyone in a community has
a vested interest in everyone else’s children because
everyone else’s children determine the next adult population that makes for a
successful society. Built into our biology is the need to have responsive
interactions with adults.>>MAYES: Neglect for children is when they don’t
get what the brain is expecting to get, what the child is
expecting to get, what we are biologically prepared and waiting for, which is input from those around us. >>SHONKOFF: It’s this back and forth
“serve and return” interaction that literally shapes the architecture
of the brain.>>FISHER: Serve and return begins when a child looks
at something or observes something, makes an utterance, and that represents the serve, and the return
is when the parent notices the child doing these things and
responds to the child.>>GUNNAR: Under conditions where serve and return
is broken you literally are pulling away what is the essential ingredient of the
development of human brain architecture.>>SHONKOFF: There was a really
compelling series of experiments where they started by videotaping the
mother and the baby engaging in cooing and smiling, and
then they asked the mother to basically put on a blank face and not
respond at all. When a baby is not attended to that is a sign of danger to
the baby biologically, so the stress systems become activated.>>MAYES: In a brain that is constantly
bathed in stress hormones, not this up and down that comes with
normal development, certain key synapses, the
connections between nerves, fail to form in critical
regions of the brain>>GUNNAR: So neglect both fails to
provide the stimulation that’s needed to develop the basic
architecture, and when it’s at a certain level is one of
the most potent activators of the stress biology of a young child. So you get a double whammy.>>SHONKOFF: Science points to 4 categories
of the spectrum of neglect. The first category would be what’s
called “occasional inattention,” where children
experience responsiveness most of the time, but occasionally adults
don’t respond. There’s no harm in that and in fact there’s
probably some benefit.>>FOX: A child can learn to self-soothe and explore the environment and all
of those opportunities build brain architecture.>>SHONKOFF: The second category, scientists would
call “chronic under-stimulation,” is where, on a regular basis, children
have less interaction with the adults around them than is
needed for healthy development.>>FISHER: Those children, typically, when
provided with enriched learning opportunities and more typical
levels of serve and return will show catch up.>>SHONKOFF: The third category is what science
would call “severe neglect in a family” where not only are there prolonged periods of inattention and lack of responsiveness but often also associated with not being
fed enough, not being bathed enough, not having basic
needs met.>>JONES-HARDEN: Neglect is a huge problem in the US. Children are much more likely
to be neglected than they are to experience any other
kind of maltreatment. >>FISHER: We see the child really being
at risk for much more substantial kinds and deficits down the road that don’t necessarily get easily fixed
or ameliorated. This is where we really need to think
about more complicated and often more intensive strategies to help undo those
effects.>>SHONKOFF: The fourth category, called
“severe neglect generally found in institutional
settings.” is the result of children living in kind of warehoused-type situations
in orphanages.>>MAYES: And it doesn’t have to even be as
extreme as orphanages. It can be experiences that are regretfully occurring in
many, many parts of our country.>>JONES HARDEN: Often institutional care in this country
is under the euphemistic name of transitional care or temporary care or assessment facilities. >>FISHER: If you think about what institutional
or residential care would look like for an infant where there’s somebody new coming on to
the shift every eight hours it really alters the development of the
child’s brain architecture and other aspects of the child’s development. JONES-HARDEN: We have the potential to
change children’s developmental trajectories.>>FISHER: Interventions can apply to parents, to
foster parents or adoptive parents, childcare settings, Head Start settings,
and other kinds of settings, and really what they’re about is attuning
people to the serve and return process.>>SHONKOFF: Neglecting young children is neglecting
the foundations of a healthy next generation. The community pays a huge price
later in terms of the problems of the next generation,
whether it be educational achievement, economic productivity, good citizenship, the ability to parent
the next generation. All of the things that have to do with
a healthy, prosperous society.


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