Families Commission report: Loving, nurturing environments lead to healthy brain development

May 5, 2009

The critical role of parents and caregivers in the physical development of children’s brains has been highlighted in a report released by the Families Commission today.

Healthy Families, Young Minds and Developing Brains vividly demonstrates how a child’s experience of love, pleasure and security – or the lack of these – has a major impact on issues as diverse as family violence, crime, social and educational success and mental health.

Prepared by Charles and Kasia Waldegrave for the Commission, the study identifies factors that enable children to reach their full potential, or prevent them from doing so. It demonstrates that the environment children experience in their early years impacts on their young minds which, in turn, affects how well they pick up everything from language and writing to important social and moral skills such as knowing how to control their emotions and desires. They might also fail to develop empathy for others, the skill needed to understand that some actions harm other people.

Author Charles Waldegrave says: “In loving, nurturing environments the child’s brain will develop normally. But recent developments in neuroscience and child development show that ongoing experiences of neglect, abuse or violence can seriously damage development in children, leading to long term impairment of their intellectual, emotional and social functioning.”

Chief Families Commissioner Dr Jan Pryor says the study shows how important it is for governments and society to value parenting and create environments that support strong, resilient, loving families and whanau within which to raise children.

“It also highlights the importance of early intervention if things do start to go wrong for families,” Dr Pryor says. “The longer a child experiences serious deprivation, the higher the chance that this will have serious long term impacts on their functioning as an adult and the harder it will be for intervention to remedy that harm.”

The paper also discusses how the experiences of the early years impact on society, Dr Pryor says.

“For instance, the Government has signalled that it is very interested in the drivers of crime. What this research tells us is that impaired mind and brain development during childhood can be a major contributor to criminal behaviour in later life, because of the developing child’s inability to self regulate and create sensitive relationships with others.”

The Families Commission will use the study to develop advice it is preparing for the Government on the importance of early intervention, what types of intervention are needed, what works best, and where government and community family services can best target their money and efforts for best effect. The study will also contribute to the Commission’s work for easy access by parents to parenting support information, early childhood education and childcare.

Download the report: Healthy Families, Young Minds and Developing Brains

Plunket Barnardos Save the Children Unicef Jigsaw Ririki Parents CentrePaediatric Society Womens Refuge Epoch

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