I have seen articles about brain development and heard it taught about over the years in regards to fostering. The classic picture you see is regularly used as a power point slide at training events for foster carers.
Although, I understood the research to be true, I only really started to think it through when this morning a similar slide popped up in my news feed. It came from an article by Alasdair Palmer in the Telegraph*. I began to think about the child that we foster and the fact that she was neglected from birth until she came to live in our family, shortly before her fourth birthday. I guess like a lot of foster carers, we had naively thought that by showing her love and giving her a safe place, we would see breakthrough in behaviour and thought patterns.
The article I read today, has made much sense of the five years we have actually experienced. We have not seen the breakthrough we thought we would. On reflection we have seen very little progress in working through the attachment issues she has. In fact, if anything we have seen things get worse and not better. It is the brain scan that I saw today, that has helped us to come to terms with the lasting damage that was done in our foster child during her formative years.
In the article, Palmer suggests that “those deficits make it impossible for that child to develop capacities that the child on the left will have: the child on the right will grow into an adult who is less intelligent, less able to empathise with others, more likely to become addicted to drugs and involved in violent crime than the child on the left. The child on the right is much more likely to be unemployed and to be dependent on welfare, and to develop mental and other serious health problems.” It makes for tough reading.
Research by neurologists shows that the way a baby is treated by their main care giver in the first two years of their life has a significant effect on the functioning of the child’s brain. Interaction between the mother (or main care giver) and the child are essential for the formation of new brain cells and the synapses made between them. It has also been noted that greater damage occurs when there is a greater degree of neglect. “If the process of building brain cells and connections between them goes wrong, the deficits are permanent.” * Furthermore, it has been shown that in adulthood there can be a decreased volume in the corpus callosum, which is responsible arousal, emotion, higher cognitive abilities, along with decreased volume in the cerebellum, which helps coordinate motor behaviour and executive functioning. Other issues occur with reduced volume in the hippocampus – central to learning and memory, smaller prefrontal cortex which effects behaviour, cognition and emotion regulation, lower cortisol levels and decreased electrical activity in the brain.**
It is widely agreed that prevention and early intervention is the key, with cross party support in the UK. However, five years on since the article was written, little has been done to implement such programmes on a larger scale. For foster parents like us who have a child who has been neglected, and no early intervention occurred, we need more training and understanding into this area of brain development. Moving forward, we need better access to and a more individualised service from the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service – help for both the child and family who care for them.
Anonymous Foster carer