Poverty Is Worse For Babies Than Smoking Crack

By  | 

just say noRemember the 80s? More specifically, remember the crack baby epidemic that so many experts and pundits proclaimed would create a “lost generation” of kids with low IQs probably deviant behavior issues? Apparently they were way off the mark, because new data suggests that the issue is less about drugs and more about money, or rather a lack of it.

It’s now well over two decades since the worst of the epidemic and most of these predictions have been highly inaccurate. According to a 24-year study of these so-called “crack babies,” prenatal use of crack cocaine has little to no effect on kids directly. That in and of itself is surprising, but there’s even more: while performing this study, researchers discovered something. While crack might not cause adverse issues directly, parenting a child without money certainly does.

In the late 1980s, Dr, Hallam Hurt, the chair of the neonatology department at Philadelphia’s Albert Einstein Medical Center, started following 224 full or near full-term babies born to crack addicted mothers. Over the years the study found that on average the IQs of the “crack babies'” were on the same level as the control group and they also had comparable outcomes in emotional and educational developments. Basically, there were NO major differences. What they DID find was that poverty itself caused a lot of serious issues for children. Now, on one hand,  poverty often goes hand in hand with drug use, but this isn’t always the case and the two are far from exclusive to each other. On the other hand, I didn’t think figuring our that impoverished = bad outcome was rocket science.

Hurt’s study showed that kids who are raised in poverty tended to have lower IQs, less school readiness, more anxiety, depression and cognitive functioning problems than kids who have more means. This was true regardless of whether their mothers were addicted to crack.

Hurt believes that the issue here is the environments in which these children are raised. The vast majority of them witness violence and crime (in person) well before they are 18. According to Hurt:

 “Those children who reported a high exposure to violence were likelier to show signs of depression and anxiety and to have lower self-esteem,” She went on to say “ “Given what we learned, we are invested in better understanding the effects of poverty. How can early effects be detected? Which developing systems are affected? And most important, how can findings inform interventions for our children?”

The obvious conclusion to all of this is that crack cocaine is less dangerous than poverty for children. Of course, no one is calling for mandatory crack servings for all infants. Which is good because my kids are annoying enough on sugar. I think we all understand that smoking crack or doing any drugs while you’re pregnant is never a good idea and that it carries serious risks. But so does poverty. And poverty has been proven to cause life long trauma, unlike crack.

You can’t argue that the crack epidemic of the 1980s wasn’t historic or life changing for the millions of people it effected. Everywhere you turned there was another TV show or newspaper article claiming that kids born to addicts would face issues such as birth defects, severe emotional issues and reduced learning abilities.

But why is it easier for us, as a society, to blame the mythical “crack addicted welfare queen” rather than the economic inequities that caused the problem in the first place? Now that we understand that it’s not the drugs, but the lack of resources, education, food and other means, that hurt kids, I think we need to stand up and freaking do something about it.

(Photo: rnl / Shutterstock)