Living

Childhood development: The link between neglect and brain structure

If you had good parents, or even one great parent, count your blessings. Not only did they teach you the meaning of the word love (a definition that you take out into the world with you and hopefully recreate) through their actions and behaviours, but the loving environment they created also encouraged proper brain development.

Child on a swing alone

Masterfile

If you had good parents, or even one great parent, count your blessings. Not only did they teach you the meaning of the word love (a definition that you take out into the world with you and hopefully recreate) through their actions and behaviours, but the loving environment they created also encouraged proper brain development.

The same can’t be said of kids who’ve suffered abuse and/or neglect, indicates a study by researchers at Boston Children’s Hospital (via Time.com). 

The findings are part of the long-term and large-scale Bucharest Early Intervention Project which, since 2001, has been focusing on the influence that neglect has on childhood development in Romania, where a reported 150,000 babies were abandoned and living in prison-like institutions during the mid-to late 1980s.

The study found a disturbing difference between children raised in loveless and neglected institutions versus those that were raised in families, findings that support previous studies about the effects of neglect and abuse. The Boston researches found that those neglected infants had impaired brain structures with “measurably lower grey matter volume and white matter volume in the cortex of the brain…” writes Time’s Laura Blue. 

This lack of proper brain development may explain some of the project’s previous findings; for example, that kids who are raised without proper care and affection suffer intellectual impairment and are more susceptible to behavioural disorders.

The study did reveal some encouraging news however. Children who were placed in good foster homes after being raised in institutions were able to catch up on their white matter — the tissue made up of nerve fibers that connects different areas of the brain and ‘fires’ activity — but not grey matter. Grey matter is the tissue that contains brain cells and has been linked to areas that control sensory perception and muscle control.

While the study’s findings are troubling, they may act as a global prod encouraging governments to improve care for children living in institutions.

Should governments be more accountable for the care children in their hands receive?

Read on to see how an absent father can also harm children’s development.