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17 MAY 2013

Reducing the Impact of Early Abuse and Neglect: Epigenetics

Professor Maurice Place

Child and Family Psychiatrist, School of Health and Life Sciences, Northumbria University:

Concern about child abuse and neglect have prompted the Government to urge a more "assertive" approach to child protection by recommending that children at risk be taken into care more quickly. It is well-recognised that abuse and neglect, particularly in the first three years of life, can significantly disrupt a child's long-term functioning. Recent research has begun to detail the mechanisms that underpin these problems, and the way they produce enduring changes in brain chemistry and even brain architecture. This paper describes these processes and reflects on how this growing understanding emphasizes that removal by itself will at best only prevent further disruption to functioning. The research into brain function and epigenetic mechanisms stresses that it is the subsequent provision of persistent positive living experiences that help to minimise the emergence of long-term emotional and behavioural difficulties, and so improving the availability of such provision needs to be given the highest priority if "assertive" removal is not to simply entrench the children's existing difficulties.

The full version of this article appears in the June 2013 issue of Family Law.    


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