Childhood Adversity and the Developing Brain

When one thinks of ‘childhood adversity’ within the Jamaican context, exposure to violence is one of the first thoughts that comes to mind.  And rightly so, when one considers how pervasive this phenomenon has become, whether in the home, school, or community. In fact, local research consistently reveal a high percentage of our children being exposed to violence (Pottinger, 2012).  According to the most recent publication of the Jamaica Survey of Living Conditions (2014), 6.1% of children have witnessed some form of violence in their community and 2.7% in the home. Instances of exposure range from bullying in school to witnessing the violent death of a parent.

Unfortunately, violence is not the only adverse circumstance our nation’s children have to contend with. Newscasts from any media house, on any given day, often leave audiences with a deep sense of horror, revulsion, anger, fear, desperation, or a combination of all, hearing of the atrocities children face and the consequences they are forced to live with. Remember Ananda Dean, Armadale, the ‘church pastor’ scandal, and countless told and untold stories of neglect, physical abuse, psychological abuse and trauma.

Some of the individual outcomes of childhood adversity with which we tend to be more familiar fall within the realm of cognitive impairment and psycho-social disorders. But how often do we consider the impact on the brain’s architecture itself, which manifests as the more familiar disorders?  To what extent can these structural effects be reversed?  And how can knowledge of the impact of childhood adversity on brain development be used in the formulation of more effective interventions.

In the video below, journalist Charlie Rose and a panel of leading scientists delve into the fascinating world of brain development, the impact of adversity on its development during the early years, the short to long term consequences and possible remedial approaches.

For access to the transcript and other videos in the series, go to Charlie Rose The Brain Series at https://charlierose.com/collections/3

Charlie Rose clip

References

Pottinger, A. (2012). Children’s exposure to violence in Jamiaca: Over a decade of research and interventions. West Indian Medical Journal, 61(4), 369-371.

Planning Institute of Jamaica (PIOJ) and STATIN (2014). Jamaica survey of living conditions 2012. Kingston: PIOJ and STATIN.