Implications | Begin Before Birth

Charlie’s story

This is a story about Charlie


Charlie, age 19 years, is just leaving prison. He has been convicted of stealing. He is also often aggressive. He generally behaves badly, and most people would think he was responsible for his crimes and deserves to be punished.

But let’s look at his story.

His mother was very stressed while she was pregnant, had no support from her family or friends and her partner did not want the child.

Charlie was a very difficult baby, often crying and hard to soothe. His mother became depressed. She was not able to give him love, warmth or encouragement. His father treated him harshly.

He did badly at school, was slow at learning, showed readily distracted attention, and often broke the rules. He was often excluded and then started to truant.

In his early teens he turned to crime.

How should we think about this?

His mother’s stress while she was pregnant could have caused him to be a difficult baby and hard to soothe. It could also have led him, as he got a little older, to show signs of ADHD and being hard to control.

All this made it tough for his family to deal with him, and show him affection. His mother’s depression made it harder for her to give him the sensitive mothering that might have helped.

His slowness at learning, ADHD and tendency to break rules (conduct disorder) are all strong risk factors for later criminal behaviour.

So one could say that a mixture of his genes and his early environment, starting in the womb, predisposed him to becoming a criminal.

We might still think he is responsible for what he did. Certainly not all those who have a hard start in life turn to crime. But maybe if Charlie had had a different start in life things would have turned out differently.

Watch the video to learn more about Charlie’s story

Charlie's story

Charlie’s Story

Click here to see the video


Public Policy

Fetal programming and Public policy

Although ‘Charlie’s story‘ is an extreme example, it contains elements that apply to many children who later turn to crime.

People are starting to realise that if we want to reduce crime in our society we need to start very early, preferably first by giving support to pregnant women.

The Family Nurse Partnership in action

An intervention for deprived teenage mothers, the Nurse Family Partnership has been developed in the USA. It gives much support and education about parenting to these mothers during pregnancy and for the first two years after birth. The  children of the mothers  who have had this  help showed a much reduced rate of probation and criminal behaviour in their teens (click here for published research papers from the NFP).

The programme is now being tried out in the UK, as the Family Nurse Partnership.

Graham Allen MP  recommends the Family Nurse partnership in his report “Early Intervention. The Next Steps

Giving extra emotional support to pregnant women should do much more than help reduce crime. It should reduce the level of emotional and behavioural problems in many children. We have estimated that if women are in the top 15% for anxiety in a normal population their child will have double the risk of a mental/behavioural disorder later (O’Connor et al 2003; Talge et al 2007). The risk  is increased from about 5% to 10%. Most children are not affected, but in terms of public health this is significant.

Women should be screened for anxiety/depression/relationship problems when they first see a health professional when pregnant, and appropriate help should be provided.  Family, friends and employers should all be more aware of how important it is to give emotional support to pregnant women.