Child Abuse Impacts Brain Development

The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) has published an extensive new report on child abuse and neglect. Below is a summarized version of some of the report’s findings…

Elevated Risk Environments

The study highlights factors that create an “elevated risk” for child abuse and neglect to occur. Factors with the strongest support in scientific research and literature include: substance abuse, family history of child abuse and/or neglect, and depression. The study recognizes that other factors may also be associated with child abuse and neglect.

Effects of Child Abuse and Neglect

Abuse and neglect actually affects the way a child’s brain develops, therefore, creating lifelong consequences.

“Childhood abuse and neglect have a profound and often lasting impact that can encompass psychological and physical health, neurobiological development, relational skills, and risk behaviors.”

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Photo courtesy of the Child Advocacy Center of Galveston County

Scientific studies show that abuse and neglect affects the development of the “amygdala, a structure in the brain that is critically involved in emotion.” In addition, “a number of studies suggest that abuse and neglect are associated with functional changes in the prefrontal cortex and associated brain regions, often affecting inhibitory control.”

Children who suffer abuse and/or neglect are more likely to exhibit: deficits in executive functioning and behavioral regulation, academic problems, emotional processing deficits, attachment disorders, an inability to regulate their emotions when interacting with others, problematic peer relations, dissociation, post traumatic stress disorder, stunted growth, obesity, and heightened anxiety. This results in a high percentage of victims as they age to be institutionalized, struggle with various addictions, attempt suicide, and engage in sexual activity at earlier ages.

Hope through Early Intervention and Treatment

Early interventions and treatment can effectively work to reverse the negative effects. In a recent Washington Post Article, Mary Dozier, NAS report committee member and University of Delaware chairman of child development, stated that,

“the effects seen on abused children’s brain and behavioral development are not static. If we can intervene and change a child’s environment, we actually see plasticity in the brain. So, we see negative changes when a child is abused, but we also see positive brain changes when the abuse ends and they are more supported. Interventions can be very effective.”

Conference: Legislative Advocacy & the Origins of Murderers

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After lunch, the 12th Annual Zealous Advocacy Conference continued with Kim Dvorchak giving an uplifting update on juvenile law legislative changes around the country, focusing on the ability of juvenile defenders to advocate for change in their home states.

Both David Domenici and Kim Dvorchak recommended the National Conference of State Legislatures: Trends in Juvenile Justice State Legislature 2001-2011 as a resource for the juvenile defenders attending.

Currently Professor David Dow of the University of Houston Law Center is describing the life of a real death row inmate to illustrate how murderers become murderers essentially by their life circumstances as children, which are quite often shockingly abusive.  The room is silent, hanging on Professor Dow’s story.  Everyone would love to stop murder before it happens by changing the circumstances of our most vulnerable and abused children.

Tuesday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Juveniles in Indian-controlled Kashmir denied justice, PressTV

In a stark revelation on the grim human rights scenario in Indian-controlled Kashmir, a fact finding report by New Delhi based Asian Centre for Human Rights has termed the situation of juveniles in Kashmir as the worst in India.

The report, which happens to be the first ever documentation on juvenile justice situation in India’s conflict-ridden areas, states that minors in Kashmir continue to be illegally detained under Public Safety Act (PSA) that provides for up to two years of preventive detention.

In absence of juvenile facilities for minor boys and girls, a brazen violation of 1997 J&K Juvenile Justice Act, minors are locked up in prisons with adults.

The report has documented six cases in which the minors have been detained in violation of Juvenile Justice Act and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Criminal justice reference site a worthwhile stop, Wisconsin Law Journal

The National Criminal Justice Reference Service “is a federally funded resource offering justice and drug-related information to support research, policy, and program development worldwide.”

The website includes a wide variety of publications, library abstracts, topical summaries, and a list of related links/websites.

To browse the site’s various topics, the researcher can select the “A-Z topics” link. Choosing an area of interest will produce a list of questions and answers specific to that topic. The webpage will also include links to relevant free and fee based publications. As an added service, the webpage includes a “Find in a library link” providing possible alternative methods for obtaining the article.

The researcher may also choose one of the broader subject-based menu options, including corrections, courts, crime, crime prevention, drugs, justice system, juvenile justice, law enforcement, and victims. From there, the user can conduct a keyword search or review the various subcategories to locate information.

The website contains a wealth of data and general information related to the various areas of criminal justice and is a worthwhile stop when conducting this type of research. If the material is of particular interest, users can also register to receive various newsletters and notifications.