Early childhood is an extremely sensitive period in human development, during which the brain, especially the circuitry governing emotion, attention, self-control and stress, is shaped by the interplay of the child’s genes and experiences. As children grow, the biological and
environmental factors that determine their development become increasingly intertwined. When the environment is a secure, positive one, these factors join forces to help maximize their potential. But when children face enduring obstacles to healthy development, such as poverty, inappropriate care, or violence, environment and biology may route them on a course to emotional, physical and mental health problems.
To advance public discussion on the role of early adversity in shaping adolescence and young adulthood, the Royal Society of Canada and the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences asked an Expert Panel on Early Childhood Development to produce a consensus document on these questions:
1. Are there identifiable adverse childhood experiences such as abuse, neglect, chronic poverty, family dysfunction, chronic illness, family addiction and/or mental illness that lead to poor mental health and unhealthy behaviours, such as addiction, in the adolescent and young adult? Is there evidence that they have their effects through changes to brain structure and function? Do these factors operate together to produce their changes? Are there factors that mitigate the influence of adverse early experiences?
2. What is the evidence for the effectiveness of a variety of interventions to mitigate the adverse effects of environmental influences [including social, political and chemical/biological] on the developing child? To what extent are such interventions being implemented in Canada?