A little over 20 years later, Krauthammer's predictions have proven almost embarrassingly inaccurate. Last week, the findings of a 24-year-long study of crack babies revealed that parental use of the drug had little or no direct effect on the children. In the process of investigating the babies, however, researchers discovered another environmental problem that did, in fact, lead to problems with depression, anxiety, cognitive functioning, and a host of other issues: poverty.
In 1989, Dr. Hallam Hurt, chair of the neonatology department at Philadelphia's Albert Einstein Medical Center, began tracking 224 near-term or full-term children who were born to crack addicts. In the ensuing years, her longitudinal study followed the children, finding that, overall, their IQs were about the same as a control group of children of non-addicted mothers. Further, the children in Hurt's study had comparable outcomes when it came to educational and emotional development.
That having been said, Hurt's study found that children raised in poverty -- regardless of whether or not their mothers were addicted to crack -- tended to have lower IQs and lower school readiness than those who weren't raised in poverty.
In other words, while prenatal crack abuse may not have a major effect on children, the societal conditions in crack-ravaged communities most certainly do. As Hurt emphasized, "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?" Or, to put it another way, now that we understand that poverty is more dangerous for children than crack, what can we do to protect our children from its effects?
Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter at @bruce1971.