Findings of "Crack Baby" Study

A recent Philadelphia Inquirer article, "'Crack baby' study ends with unexpected but clear result," written by Susan FitzGerald, reports the following:
In 1989, Hallam Hurt, then chair of neonatology at Albert Einstein Medical Center, began a study to evaluate the effects of in-utero cocaine exposure on babies. In maternity wards in Philadelphia and elsewhere, caregivers were seeing more mothers hooked on cheap, smoke-able crack cocaine.
Troubling stories were circulating about the so-called crack babies. They had small heads and were easily agitated and prone to tremors and bad muscle tone, according to reports, many of which were anecdotal. Worse, the babies seemed aloof and avoided eye contact. Some social workers predicted a lost generation - kids with a host of learning and emotional deficits who would overwhelm school systems and not be able to hold a job or form meaningful relationships.
The study sample was comprised of 224 full-term babies born at Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia between 1989 and 1992, half with mothers who used cocaine during pregnancy and half with mothers who did not. All the babies came from low-income families, and nearly all were African Americans. The babies were evaluated routinely, beginning at six months and then every six or 12 months through young adulthood.
Consistently, no significant differences between the cocaine-exposed and the nonexposed children were found. At age 4, 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. Both groups performed about the same on tests and lagged on developmental and intellectual measures compared to the norm. The researchers began to think the "something else" was going on and that was the effects of poverty.

As the children grew, the researchers tested them to learn about potential environmental factors that could be affecting their development. It was found that children being raised in a nurturing home - measured by such factors as caregiver warmth and affection and language stimulation - were doing better than kids in a less nurturing home. Conversely, it was found 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. Those children who reported a high exposure to violence were more likely to show signs of depression and anxiety and to have lower self-esteem.

The study concluded that poverty is a more powerful influence on the outcome of inner-city children than gestational exposure to cocaine.
Researchers keep tabs on 110 of the 224 children in the original study sample. Of the 110, two are dead - one shot in a bar and another in a drive-by shooting - three are in prison, six graduated from college, and six more are on track to graduate. There have been 60 children born to the 110 participants. 
The study was funded primarily by the National Institute on Drug Abuse. 
Sue Hodge

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