Edited by Jill Wright,
The ABC's Life Matters report on the Benevolent Society's Next 200 "Our Kids and Violence" dialogue at the NSW State Library last week provides some important and moving insights into child abuse and neglect.
The report touches on the deprivation of critical experiences during the early years of childhood brain development - described in research by Dr Bruce Perry as "possibly the most destructive yet least understood area of child abuse and neglect" - and discusses the consequences of prolonged exposure to violence, threats, physical and verbal abuse and unpredictable care during early childhood ... all too often at the hands of carers.
Those of us who work with adults suffering from emotional difficulties and behaviour disorders as a result of their childhood upbringing understand the painful legacy of this abuse. But the significance frequently escapes the victims and for that matter the professionals from whom they seek help.
As Professor Louise Newman, head of the Monash University Centre for Developmental Psychiatry and Psychology explained to Life Matters, these problems are crucial and not at all uncommon, but we don't have a well-developed response.
"The diagnoses are often not particularly helpful and have trivialised and silenced the voices of people who do need help," she said. Professor Newman works with many children and young adolescents who have experienced or witnessed violence, and with mothers who have experienced sexual abuse as children and consequently have problems parenting.
Over the past decade or so, we have learned much more about the impact on a child growing up in environments where they are permanently frightened. It produces heightened anxiety and a state of hypervigilance which can affect the ability to develop healthy relationships throughout their lives. It can result in problems with mood regulation, impulse control, and judgment. Tragically it can result in mothers from that sort of background having difficulty reading and responding to the normal reactions of their children.