We know the first years of development are critical: children abused or neglected in the first two years tend to be permanently affected, from having insecure attachment types (avoidant or anxious) to greater rates of psychosis and criminal behavior. This story from WBUR-Boston discusses the damage done and the higher cost of therapy as the age of intervention goes up. While they’ve pulled the cost estimate out of the air, there is no doubt it’s large:
But brain change gets harder as time passes, says Nelson of Children’s Hospital. It’s critical to intervene early before brain damage takes place, he says, to provide support for parents and caregivers, treatment and family therapy and, if need be, to remove children from abusive homes. Interventions done later in life will likely be less successful in rerouting the brain wiring than interventions done earlier, when the brain is more plastic, he says.
“If you have a plastic circuit then you might be able to overcome early adversity when placed in a better environment because the brain is still plastic enough to change,” he says.
The cost of delaying is huge — not only in human terms, but also financially. According to a recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, “the total lifetime cost of child maltreatment is $124 billion each year.”
In western countries, child welfare authorities attempt intervention when physical abuse is reported. This is a poor substitute for extended family and village life which, in times past, served as a backup to parents in rescuing children from poor parenting. The rootless and urban now live more anonymously, and children are more likely suffer from bad parenting without anyone noticing anything amiss until the hell-child is released into society, which in some neighborhoods means joining a gang of other children similarly impaired. If “everyone” (government agencies) is responsible, no one is responsible
Outside of Big Brother baby monitoring telescreens in every home, what can be done? We know it helps to have two parents, which improves attention levels and makes it more likely one is secure and good at parenting. We know intact families are better than broken ones, and we know parents who were badly brought up themselves are less likely to be good parents to their children. On top of that, parents who care for their children are more likely to wait for economic circumstances which allow them to be raised with adequate resources, while less responsible people don’t look ahead and have children despite their lack of ability to support them.
I don’t have an answer for this. It’s not imaginable that “society” can monitor parenting at this level without becoming 1984-level intrusive. It’s not likely a social movement will return stable nuclear families, Mormon-like, to the norm. It’s impossibly expensive to apply therapy and intervention to every child affected when it becomes obvious there is a problem, in school years or after.
But this question should be one of the big ones that we look at. Societies with high proportions of dysfunctional citizens are eventually displaced by a more organized group. The Romans probably wondered why they could not hold back the barbarian hordes despite their high level of sophistication and wealth….
More on education and child development :
Student Loan Debt: Problems in Divorce
Early Child Development: The High Cost of Abuse and Neglect
Child Welfare Ideas: Every Child Gets a Government Guardian!
Tuitions Inflated, Product Degraded, Student Debts Unsustainable
Free Range Kids vs Paranoid Child Welfare Authorities
“Crying It Out” – Parental Malpractice!
Brazilian For-Profit Universities Bring Quality With Quantity
The Affordable, Effective University: Indiana and Mitch Daniels
Real-Life “Hunger Games”: Soft Oppression Destroys the Poor
“Attachment Parenting” – Good Idea Taken Too Far?
Real Self-Esteem: Trophies for Everyone?
Public Schools in Poor Districts: For Control Not Education
YA Dystopias vs Heinlein et al: Social Justice Warriors Strike Again
Steven Pinker on Harvard and Meritocracy
Social Justice Warriors, Jihadists, and Neo-Nazis: Constructed Identities