Sad as the front-page story about Shaquille Brown was (“ ‘I been in hell all my life,’ ” Nov. 25), what made me saddest is that much of his violent and unrewarding life experience could probably have been prevented. Nurturing, security, and consistent parenting are the elemental building blocks of infancy and early childhood development. Children must grow up both knowing that they are loved and expecting to be cared for. A great deal of research has shown that a nurturing preschool experience, coupled with support and coaching for parents, reduces the likelihood of criminal behavior by more than half. In doing so, it also saves $10 for every dollar spent.
A recent study demonstrates that abuse and neglect during childhood actually can change a person’s DNA, so the early damage becomes permanent. What we lack is the social and political motivation to make the societal changes that we already know would produce healthier adults, reduce crime, and save a lot of money. It is unconscionable that, as a society, we still have not acted on this knowledge.
The writer is a professor of pediatrics at the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center.