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.
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.