In this month’s edition of Essentially MIDIRS, midwife Octavia Wiseman explores the evidence from neuroscience that is often – misguidedly – used to support changes in public health and parenting policy. Read on for a sneak preview of her article…
Neuroscience or neurobabble? How science is informing parenting policy
– by Octavia Wiseman.
“Over the last ten years there has been a shift of focus in public health policy. Pregnancy and the first three years in a child’s development are increasingly seen as crucial stages which can impact on long term outcomes. Ground-breaking research from neuroscience, which uses magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computerised axial tomography (CAT) scanning techniques to examine the brain, has promoted the belief that nurture (ie the environment) as well as nature can affect the physical development of a baby’s brain. The key concept is that if a baby does not receive the right stimulation during the sensitive early years, they will be unable to create the neural pathways essential for future development.
‘An adverse early environment, one that is inadequately supplied with nutrients, contains toxins, or is deprived of appropriate sensory, social, or emotional stimulation, results in faulty brain circuitry. Once established, a weak foundation can have detrimental effects on further brain development, even if a healthy environment is restored at a later age’ (National Scientific Council on the Developing Child (NSCDC) 2007:1).
The NSCDC, part of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, is not a purely academic institution but one whose mission is to ‘…leverage science to enhance child well-being through innovations in policy and practice’ (Center on the Developing Child 2012). They have played a central role in disseminating this interpretation of neuroscientific evidence, which has led to widespread public policy changes in the US and the UK. The provision of high-quality parenting is the new ‘holy grail’ in public health, focusing government attention and resources on early years development.”
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