Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

The child before the monster

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A recent article about Shawn Lamb, the man convicted of killing two Winnipeg women, noted he has "spent most of his adult life behind bars for acts committed to fuel his drug habit" (Lamb wants to follow righteous path after prison, Nov. 16). Further, the article stated, if he is released upon serving his time, he will be required health and mental health supports, vocational training and a likely stint of residential treatment. These are just some of the components for him to be successful in reintegrating into society.

In the same paper, an article about giving children at risk a better chance in life was headlined Pay now... or really pay later. I agree: We need to work on the foundation.

Lamb's childhood was said to have started with adoption out of his First Nations community as a toddler, and a young life marked by violence in a home where he was sexually and physically abused. He became addicted to alcohol and drugs, he said, at the age of nine.

As an executive director of a family resource centre, this story illustrates why I believe it is so important to assist parents to be the best they can be. As a community, it is also our responsibility to make sure all children deserve the best start in life.

It is about recognizing that nurturing environments, particularly from prenatal to six years of age, which are essential for healthy brain development. The human brain is constructed through an ongoing process that begins before birth and continues into adulthood. The early years is about building a strong foundation. Early experiences literally shape how the brain is built; a strong foundation in the early years increases the probability of positive outcomes, while a weak foundation increases the odds of later difficulties. In other words, brains are built through interactive influences of genes and early experiences.

Negative environments, including chronic neglect, recurrent abuse and parental addiction can lead to the development of toxic stress in children and can have a tremendous effect on the expression of children's genes. Toxic environments have huge negative implications for later learning, the development of skills and abilities, behaviour and health.

Research has shown the health and social consequences of violence and addiction have enormous economic and social costs. Children who are exposed to physical, sexual abuse and addiction may grow up having behavioural and psychological scars. It can lead to Shawn Lamb. It can also lead to sexual promiscuity, alcohol and drug abuse, increased likelihood of involvement in violence and related diseases such as HIV, hepatitis, lung cancer and mental health issues and usually an early death. Children see, children do.

Early years are a key contributor in determining a person's success in their life. Prevention is the only cure. Hope changes everything.

If you want an effective prevention plan, it will cost money. It is about investing in people.

I believe some solutions could be:

  • Increase safe, stable, and nurturing relationships between children and their parents and caregivers.
  • Reduce availability and misuse of alcohol.
  • Improve life skills and enhance opportunities for children and youth.
  • Promote gender equality and empower women.
  • Change cultural norms that support violence and substance abuse
  • Improve the criminal justice and social welfare systems.
  • Reduce economic inequality and concentrated poverty.
  • Develop healthy-child-development services and programs.
  • Wrap-around services for the whole family unit.

I am a strong advocate of early years and parenting support. It is about investing in our children and their parents who parent them. This not a short-term investment.

It is easier to build strong children than to fix broken men.

We need to ask about the societal circumstances that lead to acts of violence and addiction and continue to always ask why they exist.

 

Sharon Taylor is the executive director at the Wolseley Family Place.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 27, 2013 A11

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