Friday, 16 July 2010

Arrested? Development?........

Hullo ma wee blog,

This {rather unusual for the blog} topic comes from my involvement in child welfare through Scotland's Children's Hearings - lay tribunals - which are able to issue legally binding measures for the treatment, care ,control, guidance or protection of children up to the age of 16 or in certain circumstances 18. These may be children who are offending or being offended against or who are simply in need of some help in facing life's problems in some way that can't be addressed on a voluntary basis, perhaps due to non-engagement by the parents. One of the most common reasons nowadays for a child being brought before a hearing though is because they are deemed to be suffering from a legally defined 'Lack of Parental Care'. These cases are often the most stressful and complicated a hearing has to deal with and can have the furthest reaching consequences.

Every community has them and we've probably all come up against them at one time or other. They're the local family or families that are disruptive, anti-social, engaged in nuisance and criminal activities. Usually they are focused on the female of the household. Often these women  are drug or alcohol dependant individuals who have had a long history of failed relationships with transient and violent men, often themselves also drug or alcohol dependant. The family is usually unemployed and dependant on benefits for money. The house and immediate environment are neglected and in poor condition. There can be a relatively high number of children in the household - usually very close in ages and universally troubled in their relationships, chaotic behaviour and attitudes, struggling or failing within the education system, known to the police and social services for offending, for violence against each other and outsiders or lack of parental care. They are not subject to routine or boundaries, they are disrespectful of everyone and can see no further than their own personal needs or gratification. They have adversarial relationships with neighbours and community, with police and social services. Early nuisance and offending behaviours in the children graduate over years to alcohol and drug abuse, violence and gang or weapon - in Scotland this most often means knife - related crime and high incidences of prison time. The family trust no one and feel aggrieved and put upon, distrusting and resistant to any and all attempts at support or intervention. Relationships with wider family - even those parts of the family acknowledged as a valued part of the community are often acrimonious and marked by dispute, chaos or violence at each and every meeting. The families are shunned and isolated by many in the local area.

They are a problem for most communities. They tie up enormous amounts of time, resource and energy from social and emergency services. The impact onto the community and the public purse can be enormous and life-long. They repel and attract elements of society in almost equal measure.  Each generation seems to spawn  even more disaffected seed to take root and spread the chaos and despair even further afield, increasing criminality and anti-social behaviour in a ripple effect among those easily influenced in the local area. Problems increase with each generation.

But is it nature or is it nurture?

The Impact of Early Environment on Brain Development.

At birth the brain is 25% of adult weight. By age 2 years it's 75% and by ages 3-4 years it is 90% of adult weight. The high level of brain growth and development in these early years is a fundamental reason why babies are totally dependant on the adults around them to meet all their needs for such a long time. The basic architecture of the brain is formed during pregnancy, but at birth the connections between the different parts of the brain aren't yet formed. These connections are predominately relationship/environment dependant for their healthy development which explains the surge of growth after birth. It also highlights the need for an appropriate environment and loving parenting to create a suitable safe and stable platform during the time needed for these brain connections and development to take place.

A child's brain develops sequentially:

Brain stem - this development takes place from pre birth to about 8 months and amongst others controls breathing and organ function.
Mid-brain - which controls the motor function develops between birth and one year.
Limbic Brain - which controls the emotional functioning - develops between six months and two years.
Cortex - which controls reasoning/cognitive functions develops between one year and four years old.

The region for basic vision is completed by age 6 months.
The critical period for developing emotions occurs from ten to eighteen months.
By age two, motor circuits are hard wired.
{The more words a child hears during their second year significantly affects their vocabulary for the rest of their life.}
The acquisition of other functions, such as academic learning takes place over a lifetime but is inherently dependant on the brain development established in these critical early years.

So while this period of brain growth and programming is taking place, what a child experiences and how it experiences is critical for its future. During this period, if a child is frequently exposed to stimulus which generate high levels of stress, or conversely is exposed to a frequent lack of stimulus, the child's brain and emotional development is fundamentally and permanently affected. One effect which is key to this situation is that the brain doesn't learn how to properly control production and reaction to the hormone cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone produced alongside adrenaline, linked to excitement from potentially harmful situations. The body automatically produces these hormones in preparation for 'fight or flight' as a means of self preservation. Cortisol could be described in layman's terms as the fear hormone of the two leaving adrenaline perhaps as the excitement hormone. Because the function of these hormones is to preserve life they are produced instantaneously and they swamp and inhibit  almost all other functions while a threat is in place or perceived.

To develop normally the brain has to learn to produce and regulate correct levels of this - and other- hormones. Failure to do so results in significant impact onto the child's life-long abilities.

Where a child is subjected to regular stimulus such as anger or - whether witnessing or directly experiencing - violence, cortisol production is extremely exaggerated and the body is flooded with high levels of the hormone. Where a child is subject to low levels of stimulus through lack of nurturing contact and experiences such as mental and physical stimulus through play cortisol production is absent or minimal. Both these examples have a direct result on how that child will be able to function through its lifetime. It's important also to note that studies have shown that very young children who experience fearful situations respond in exactly the same way  every time - producing instantaneous and extremely high levels of cortisol - and do not become normalised to the situation.

Dependent on the history of stimulus the child can therefore develop with extremely high levels of cortisol production in the case of a child in a chaotic environment, abnormally low with extremely high spikes in a neglectful and sometimes chaotic environment and abnormally low levels from a consistent lack of nurture. Children who have these abnormal developmental experiences may have a brain size 20-30% smaller than that of a child who has been reared in a nurturing environment. Impact from this on behaviour can mean that they are shy and anxious and withdrawn, be less sociable and more aggressive than normal children. These children are also more likely to have weakened immune systems and will fall ill more frequently, be more easily fatigued and have disrupted sleep patterns.

Abnormal production of cortisol puts a brake on other body functions, taking priority as its function is linked with survival in dangerous circumstances. It directly reduces relaxation, the immune system and the learning function because the body believes it is in crisis.

When the body is perpetually in a state of crisis it cant easily reabsorb the high levels of cortisol and other systems are permanently weakened, the body, existing in a state of permanent anxiety, has less ability to cope and develops a very quick trigger point to stimulus.


Feeling safe is all about attachment, establishing a bond of trust and understanding. When this is done correctly it allows the child to learn how to regulate its emotions effectively in a healthy way. Children who can't do this react to actual  or perceived stress by producing more cortisol than is healthy and that the body can cope with.

So in answer to the question I posed at the top of this post, It's both nature and nurture.

As you can see, the behaviour of many of these dysfunctional children - who will go on to become dysfunctional adults - is not necessarily a matter of choice but to all intents and purposes has been hard wired into their being by poor parenting with the consequences stated earlier of life-long offending or anti-social behaviour, breeding more generations of similarly affected, poorly parented children.

The big question though is how do we break this damaging cycle and protect future generations of children from damage?

For me it has to be ' save the mother and you will save the generations to come'. We have to solve this problem.


We are seeing more and more young girls come into the system. They are the mothers of tomorrow who will provide the next brain damaged, violence predilicted generation of offenders .
Perhaps these figures will partly explain more directly;

First though have a look at these two newspaper comments;

"It is depressing nowadays to take up ones newspaper and read the daily catalogue of assaults and murders with knives, razors and other lethal weapons. Indeed slashings and stabbings are becoming so common that they appear to be an accepted part of our modern youths recreation."

{Glasgow Evening Times 1930}

"Across the whole of Scotland it is still knives that account for more than 50% of murders......"

{Daily Record 2008}

So - little has changed in almost 80 years. It's not the modern phenomenon we all think it is!

And is this acceptable?

{ranked by country - 2004 figs.}

1. Norway - 1.0
2. Spain/Greece - 1.3
16. Northern Ireland - 3.5
22. England/Wales - 4.2
29. Romania - 5.3
37. Albania 6.2
40. SCOTLAND 7.3
42. U.S.A. 7.9
44. Israel 8.3

Isn't it time we got a grip????

see you later.

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