Physical Brain Changes in Neglected Kids

Article

Abandonment alters children's brain tissue.Children who experienced extreme neglect showed physical changes in the white matter of their brains, a Boston team found.Writing in JAMA Pediatrics Johanna Bick PhD and colleagues at Boston Children's Hospital reported on the Bucharest Early Intervention Project.

Children who experienced extreme neglect showed physical changes in the white matter of their brains, a Boston team found.

Writing in JAMA Pediatrics Johanna Bick PhD and colleagues at Boston Children’s Hospital reported on the Bucharest Early Intervention Project.

At age 2, 136 children who had spent more than half their lives were randomly assigned to either remain in institutional care or be moved to high-quality foster care.

Foster care was almost nonexistent in Bucharest, Romania at the time of the study, the authors said.

The study involved doing followup assessments on 69 children from both groups of subjects at regular intervals through age 12. They also did an assessment of a control group of kids who had never been in institutional care. The evaluations included MRI scans of the children’s brains.

The findings showed physical changes in the white matter of the brains of the children who were still living in institutional care. There were “significant associations between neglect in early life and the microstructural integrity of the body of the corpus collusum, tracts involved in limbic circuitry, sensory processing and other areas,” the researchers said.

In the time they lived in institutions, the children “experienced social, emotional, linguistic and cognitive impoverishment,” the study found.

The team concluded that the study results suggest that “Removal from conditions of neglect in early life and entry into a high-quality family environment can support more normative trajectories of white matter growth.“

The social policy implications are significant, they added, noting that “Our findings have implications for public health and policy efforts designed to promote normative brain development among vulnerable children.”

The research was supported by the John D. and Catherin T. MacArthur Foundation and others.

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