Wednesday 14 December 2016

Three year olds, "science" and burdening society

There is a whopping conflict of interest buried in a horrifying article I want to write about today.  First the horrifying bit:  Professor Richie Poulton is waxing lyrical about which three year old children will grow up to be criminals or poor:
"A simple test at the age of three can predict if children will grow up to be a burden on society, New Zealand researchers say.
The tests on the brains of young children can reveal who is likely to become part of the minority of adults to use the biggest share of social services, new findings from the Dunedin Multidisciplinary Study show."
Three year olds.  Imagine the state deciding a three year old you know will be a criminal one day.  Imagine what the state will do to that child.  Imagine being that child.

This is Minority Report on steroids.  It's not even pre-criming - it's just class and race profiling, because we all know which (poor, brown) children Professor Poulton is talking about:
"We also found that members of this group tended to have grown up in more socio-economically deprived environments, experienced child maltreatment, scored poorly on childhood IQ tests and exhibited low childhood self-control," Poulton said.

The problem here is not that people without enough are a burden on society.  It is that we have structured our society so that many people do not have enough but the rich can thrive.  Finding ways to blame three year olds for intergenerational, entrenched poverty and racism is a quite the side-step, even for the most vicious of benefit bashers.  I wonder how well Professor Poulton's test predicts white collar crime?  I'm sure it takes into account the institutional racism which study after study has identified in our criminal legal system.  And I'm certain he found a way to pay attention to the fact that the children of rich people may not need to access social services in the same way because they are well-protected by the wealth of their parents.

Now to the conflict of interest, which hasn't even made the small print. The article fails to mention that Professor Poulton is also the Chief "Science" Advisor at MSD.  It does say:
"The findings were enabled by a "unique situation" in which governmental data on benefits, criminal convictions and health services could be analysed alongside the smaller scale but more detailed information gathered by the Dunedin study."
So people's INDIVIDUAL information, about accessing benefits they need, and criminal records, and how and when they have needed healthcare has been handed over to researchers who are interviewing people one-on-one about their lives.  Because of the "unique situation" of Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton - benefiting from government money as a researcher in one role, making decisions about what counts as research and evidence in another while he is part of the vast collection of data about us that is the Integrated Data Infrastructure

I wrote six weeks ago of my concerns at an increasingly pressured community sector being forced to hand over individual level client data to the government if they wanted to continue to be funded:
"The same database which has your tax details, benefit details, student loan, car ownership history - hell, there's no limit to what the Integrated Data Infrastructure might grow to include.  Let's be honest, there's been next to no public conversation about the developing surveillance system this government has created, and what's appropriate to link and why."
How much money is being spent on the Integrated Data Infrastructure?  Enough to feed and house all the people in New Zealand that are hungry and living in sub-standard housing?  How much money is Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton getting for his longitudinal research - particularly in a climate where other longitudinal research funding is being cut?  And just how political are these decisions?  Designed, say, to fit an agenda which criminalises poverty?  Let's not forget how Bill English recently justified cutting funding to New Zealand's largest longitudinal study (not Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton's):
Finance Minister Bill English said the decision was more about providing "value for money" rather than saving money.  He suggested the Government was not gaining adequate access to the data.
"There's a whole history behind the Growing up in New Zealand study, there have been ongoing negotiations for some time, to make sure it meets the Government's needs. 
"To some extent the longitudinal studies aren't as powerful as they used to be, because we've got our own administrative data."
What was important to the Government was the "availability of the data".
The brutality of this government is, I believe, not yet fully appreciated, when they write off three year olds and the families they come from as "professional agency hoppers" and a "burden on society."  Let's not forget too, the changes in child protection for these written off three year olds - changes which without doubt at some point will include introducing private profit motives.

This government is finding new ways to make money from those already carrying the burden of greed in our increasingly unequal world.  Some of it just looks like the old ways - giving money, jobs and positions of influence to their mates, exploiting conflicts of interest for all they are worth, making those at the bottom of the heap increasingly vulnerable through shrinking protections and safety nets.  Some of it looks newer - privatising prisons and maybe at some point child protection.

Devastating as all these changes are for those with the least, the biggest damage of all may be to our imaginary world.  Three year olds look like children to most of us now.   But if Professor Chief "Science" Advisor Poulton has as much sway as his title suggests, when will they start looking - especially the poor brown ones - like future criminals? And what will that mean to how we treat them - or how we allow the state to treat them?


Hopeful said...

This is an excellent statement, Hand Mirror. Congratulations on getting it published elsewhere.

It is an appalling piece of "analysis" of research which has been taken totally out of context.

Treat a child as a criminal, and that child WILL become a criminal. Treat a child with kindness, and give it sufficient shelter, food, and the ability to learn ... and that child will NOT become a criminal.

Unknown said...

My understanding of the research findings is that the child's personality types is of significance ans the genetic influence is such that with other mitigating factors in place then all bets are off. If we had a society that understood that some need more help from teachers and other supports including family and made provision that such extra supports would be there then we can mitigate for a great deal. But we don't we have a society in which being a mother is the lowest profession and if you are on a benefit to support you as a solo parent you will be paid well below a living wage and expected to leave your children to rush out and get a job asap which will be if a minimum wage job still below what is considered a living wage. If two parent families can't survive on the two wages what the hell can we hope for.

Evelyn said...

I saw the excellent tV series on the Dunedin Study. You must see those episodes before you criticise the research. It was about nature versus nuture and the results showed that if a young child is not nutured emotionally and is neglected then that child will have problems later in life. Some of the people who have appeared in The Darklands by Nigel Latta have gone onto murder and he has shown that they basically had an awful upbringing. This is not about racisim or people on benefits, it is about young people who have been emotionally and physically abused and neglected and despite what you were born with (nature) it is nuture or lack of it which determines what type of life they will have as an adult.

Hopeful said...

Yes, Evelyn, I do understand re nature versus nurture but does this always show up at age three? What about the child of four or five maybe six years old whose parents split up, and the mum finds a new partner who is then abusive to her, or later on surreptiously sexually abuses the child ...... that child might have had an okay upbringing in its first years, but then this could be undermined by a homelife which occurred in the later years?
What about the children who get upset by a parental split-up in later years and go "off the rails" in some way?
I am also aware that if you expect a child to be a bad person, and you say so, then that can become the truth for that child.
My query about this is - should you label a child at such an early age?

Noel said...

Many of today's prisoners are more likely to have a non diagnosed neurological condition, raised in a dysfunctional family and from an environment of poverty and abuse.

Not what people like to hear and I don't see that changing in the near future.