Saturday, January 4, 2014

Crack Babies and Long Term Outcomes

A few days ago Joanne Jacobs posted about a recently published study that followed 110 children to adulthood. Some of these children were considered "crack babies" when they were born and some were not. The findings of the study showed that whether or not a child is born as a "crack baby" does not impact the child's life outcomes. Whether a child is raised by a nurturing caregiver, however, does. 

Eight years ago my Emotional Disabilities professor was adamant about this and had us read the previously published research which also found that the theory of crack babies wasn't accurate. It was the parents, not the crack, that had the biggest impact on long term outcomes. At the time this was somewhat of a surprise to me. I was working with two girls who we suspected both had parents who had been on drugs during pregnancy. With the concept that crack babies are crack babies for life we found ourselves thinking, well, what do you expect from these girls?

My professor's clear stance on this and the research he showed us changed my thinking. If it doesn't matter what sort of difficulties the babies had at birth- if there were still opportunities for them to persevere- then what could we do in school to support that? As teachers we obviously never can replace parents. We will never be able to change a child's background. But we can do things in school- be supportive, caring teachers, give opportunities to educate families, let kids know we believe in them- that will better the situation. Above all the best thing we can do for our students is to not write them off because we assume that what they were born with already set their future. 

When I've shared the "being a crack baby doesn't matter" research with others I often find they have trouble believing me. For so long our mental model of crack babies was set in a hopeless state so it seems to be difficult for people to grapple with the change of thought. Yet as we learn more about the brain, how it works and its capabilities for remapping itself I feel we really will come to a place where as a society we can understand that we can't write off anyone based off their birth history.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

However, think about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. The research on outcomes for FAS babies indicates that there are permanent, long lasting, harmful effects (just as there are permanent effects of inadequate parenting). That's not to say that you give up, but that you make specific plans for the child based on what you know about her or his birth circumstances AND her or his home life.