When you think of “crack babies,” a term coined in the ‘80s and ‘90s to refer to children born addicted to the drug, you might think of super tiny babies — mostly African-American — in incubators screaming ferociously or hyperactive kids who can’t sit still.
This is what an overzealous media and medical community put in the American imagination over and over again for years.
Crack babies will fare worse, be less intelligent and be developmentally and behaviorally challenged in ways that we have never seen before.
Yet, the only problem with this is that it isn’t true, says a new study.
For almost 25 years, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania followed 224 children born with cocaine in their systems in Philadelphia and found no real significant difference between them and babies born with no drugs in their system.
At age 4, for instance, the average IQ of the cocaine-exposed children was 79.0 and the average IQ for the nonexposed children was 81.9. Both numbers are well below the average of 90 to 109 for U.S. children in the same age group. When it came to school readiness at age 6, about 25 percent of children in each group scored in the abnormal range on tests for math and letter and word recognition.
And so if both groups were performing below average, what else is shaping these kids’ lives?
In a lecture, the study’s lead researcher Hallam Hunt was clear: “Poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine.”
According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, poverty and what poverty brings is devastating to children’s development and overall outcome:
That 81 percent of the children had seen someone arrested; 74 percent had heard gunshots; 35 percent had seen someone get shot; and 19 percent had seen a dead body outside – and the kids were only 7 years old at the time. Those children who reported a high exposure to violence were likelier to show signs of depression and anxiety and to have lower self-esteem.
Now obviously, the study emphasizes that doing drugs while pregnant does have serious health risks, but this “lost generation” of Black children due to crack just never really happened.
If anything, this study confirms what we already know about poverty and race in the U.S. and leaves us wondering, "What's really going to be done about it?"
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