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A Christmas gift to the next generation

By Barbara Biggs - posted Friday, 21 December 2007

As Christmas draws near, police and social workers are readying themselves for a season of the highest levels of family violence and child abuse.

This year former Liberal Minister, Bronwyn Bishop, mooted the idea of permanently removing children born to drug dependant mothers. The argument continues to rage about when to remove children from dysfunctional parents and if removing them will create more harm further down the track.

Still grappling with the question, and in the lead-up to this Christmas, more several thousand child protection workers and therapists from around the country turned out to hear one of the world’s leading neuroscientists outline his ideas about how to stop the cycle of abuse.


Dr Bruce Perry runs the Child Trauma Academy in Texas and has been called to deal with children involved in the Columbine High School shootings, the 9-11 terrorist attacks and Hurricane Katrina.

He says the brains of infants who are abused, neglected or traumatised, are biologically and measurably different and smaller to the brains of children with normal development.

His research shows that children with under-developed brains don’t have a choice about how they behave. They are simply incapable of normal behaviour since parts of their brain which regulate normal responses have not developed capabilities to respond to normal stimuli.

The repercussions of his research should be far-reaching. They should also help bureaucrats figure out how deal with the problem of removal.

Asked at one of several conferences where he presented if children should be removed from abusive or neglectful parents, Dr Perry said it’s impossible to have a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Many parents simply don’t know how to parent well because they weren’t parented well. Often you’ll find that, given the chance, with a non-punitive approach, they will want to improve their parenting styles,” he said.


To this end, Dr Perry also took his ground-breaking work to groups of politicians and magistrates.

His extensive work has shown that parents, whose needs were not met as infants, will not know how to meet the needs of their own infants. He outlined a plan for all women giving birth to fill in a questionnaire to assess what services they may need to help them parent in the most effective way.

“If we can provide support and assistance to mothers as early as possible, we’re taking a preventive approach rather than waiting until a few years down the track when a mandatory report has been made,” he said.

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First published in the Adelaide Advertiser on December  , 2007.

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About the Author

Barbara Biggs is a former journalist and author of a two-part autobiography, In Moral Danger and The Road Home, launched in May 2004 by Peter Hollingworth and Chat Room in 2006. Her latest book is Sex and Money: How to Get More. Barbara is convenor of the National Council for Children Post-Separation,

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