Blinded by neuroscience: social policy, the family and the infant brain

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David Wastell Nottingham University Business School, Nottingham, UK

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Sue White Institute of Applied Social Studies, University of Birmingham, UK

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Current social policy initiatives are promoting early intervention to improve the lives of disadvantaged children. Neuroscientific evidence is prominent in this discourse, creating the lustre of science, but too much has been taken on trust. In particular, the argument that the first three years are critical has created a now-or-never imperative to intervene before irreparable damage is done to the developing infant brain. A critique of current policy in the United Kingdom is provided here, drawing on counter-arguments from the policy discourse in the United States during the ‘decade of the brain’, updated with more recent research findings. Overall, we show that the infant brain is not readily susceptible to permanent and irreversible damage from psychosocial deprivation. Rather, plasticity and resilience seem to be the general rule. The co-option of neuroscience has medicalised policy discourse, silencing vital moral debate and pushing practice in the direction of standardised, targeted interventions rather than simpler forms of family and community support, which can yield more sustainable results.

David Wastell Nottingham University Business School, Nottingham, UK

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Sue White Institute of Applied Social Studies, University of Birmingham, UK

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Families, Relationships and Societies
An international journal of research and debate