For years, there have been discussions surrounding the term ‘crack baby’. Have you heard the term? Just in case you are not familiar, the term ‘crack baby’ was created during the crack epidemic in the 1980s and 90s. It was used to describe babies who were exposed to crack (cocaine) as a fetus; the term labeled children with cocaine addicted mothers, describing them as being seriously deformed, suffering from emotion and psychological issues, lacking the ability for cognitive growth, and automatically placing them in a category of crime and addiction.
Over the years, it had been strongly suggested that exposure to cocaine in the fetus causes long-term developmental issues for children. It was believed that these children would end up dying, substance abusers, lacking the ability to learn, in and out of prison and so on. I can remember having my own ideas about what a ‘crack baby’ should look like, how they would behave, and how they would ultimately live their lives as adults; all of which was negative. My assumptions had been based on the ‘picture’ that was drawn for me by society and by the media. How about you??? When you heard the term, what would you imagine a ‘crack baby’ to be?
Some common descriptions sound a little like this, “Crack babies are born with small heads, they are easily agitated, they suffer from tremors and bad muscle tone, they avoid eye contact, they have learning disabilities and emotional deficits, they are overwhelmed with school, they are not able to keep a job and they cannot have successful relationships.
Well, I am here to share some really important information with you, so read closely…..
Quoting from an article that I recently read, only several years ago social workers and the like believed “crack was interfering with the central core of what it is to be human," and that crack babies were "doomed to a life of uncertain suffering, of probable deviance, of permanent inferiority." You will be relieved to know that there is no such thing as a ‘crack baby’! Based on current research the crack baby syndrome is a myth. You heard correctly, a myth! Research shows that the unsuccessful lives of children born to crack addicted mothers is not due to their being born as a ‘crack baby’, but because they are living in poverty. Yes people, poverty is more of an issue to our children than being exposed to crack cocaine while in the fetus!
Now don’t get my words twisted, I am not suggesting that it is okay for parents to do drugs during their pregnancy; women using drugs can suffer from high blood pressure, can trigger premature labor (all babies born prematurely are at risk for many medical and developmental problems), the drug use may be linked to a condition that causes the placenta to tear away from the uterine wall, and the mother drug use can cause a major disruption in the child’s home.
After reading a few articles, there is one that I thought was most informative. In this article, the writer describes a group of children born 25 years ago to crack addicted mothers compared to a group of children being born to mothers who did not use drugs. The one thing the groups had in common were that they resided in low income, disenfranchised communities.
What I found so interesting about this topic (so interesting that I felt the need to share) is that researchers have learned that all of the ‘hoopla’ spread about the ‘crack baby’ was nonsense. One research project in particular consisted of 110 children; one group was born to mothers who were addicted to crack cocaine and another group was born to parents who did not use drugs at all. The groups were studied for a total of 25 years. While looking for the effects of cocaine the researchers found something totally different. They found that the two groups performed the same on tests; and they both lagged behind on developmental and intellectual measures compared to the average child. Out of the 110 children participating in the 25 year research project, two were killed; three are in prison; six graduated from college; and six are going to graduate. There is no explanation as to what happened to the others.
Upon realizing the research was not turning out as they had expected, the researchers followed up with evaluations that would allow them to evaluate the environmental factors that could have played a role in the effects of the children’s development. They found that the children raised in a nurturing home, of course did much better than those who were not living in nurturing homes. They also found that 81% of the children had seen someone arrested; 74% had heard gunshots; 35% had seen someone get shot; and 19% had seen a dead body….all by the age of seven years old. The children who were exposed to the most violence were more likely to show signs of depression, anxiety and low self-esteem. Another important evaluation the researchers conducted was an examination of the brain and its link to attention skills. After comparing both groups they could not find any clinical significant effect on behavioral tests of attention skills.
All in all, it appears that poverty has more of a negative influence on the outcome of children living in inner-cities than gestational exposure to cocaine. As one of the researchers stated, “You can't walk into a classroom and tell this kid was exposed and this kid was not. Unfortunately, there are so many factors that affect poor kids. They have to deal with so much stress and deprivation; and exposure to violence is a huge factor."
Any kind of alcohol, illicit drugs and cigarettes are not good for babies; however, with all the labels our children are forced to live with it is a breath of fresh air to know that we can get rid of at least one of them! Children born to mothers addicted to crack cocaine are no longer labeled CRACK BABIES; they are not doomed to grow up and become addicts themselves, or to become criminals. Rather, they all have the same opportunities as the next child….that is, IF they can escape the ills of poverty.
The bad news…poverty is real, and it is a culture. The good news…born to a crack addicted mother or not, if we all work together, we can make a difference in the lives of young people. It takes a village to raise a child….get in where you can fit in, and help when and where you can!
Mrs. Tomaro M Pilgrim, MS