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Study Questions 'Crack Baby' Syndrome

Poor parenting, not cocaine exposure, may be more to blame

FRIDAY, July 16, 2004 (HealthDayNews) -- Poor parenting in infancy may be more to blame for developmental problems in children born to cocaine-addicted mothers, rather than any effect of cocaine exposure in utero, according to a new study.

The Georgia study found that children born to women who used cocaine during their pregnancy do better if they live with caregivers other than their mother or other family members, according to a study by the Society for Research in Child Development.

The study included 83 children whose mothers took cocaine during pregnancy and 63 non-exposed children. The researchers followed the children from birth until they were 2 years old. By that age, 49 of the cocaine-exposed children were still with their parents, while 34 of them were being cared for by other adults.

Of those 34 children, about half were being cared for by relatives and the other half by non-related adults.

The study concluded that prenatal exposure to cocaine did not directly affect a child's developmental outcome by age 2. It found that cocaine-exposed children in non-parental care, especially those being cared for by people who weren't relatives, had better living environments and performed better in several developmental areas than cocaine-exposed children who lived with their parents.

The authors say their findings suggest that negative outcomes in children born to cocaine users may be the result of caregiver quality during infancy rather than the direct effects of cocaine use by the mother during pregnancy.

In recent year, pediatrics experts have challenged the existence of 'crack baby' syndrome -- highly publicized in the 1980s and 1990s -- which holds that babies are permanently damaged by exposure to cocaine in the womb.

The Georgia findings suggest that developmental delays in these infants may be tied to the home environment rather than cocaine-linked neurological deficits. According to the study authors, developmental problems in cocaine-exposed children might be prevented and treated more easily via direct intervention with the children, through supporting women in their recovery from substance abuse and by helping them improve their parenting skills.

More information

The American Council for Drug Education has more about drugs and pregnancy.

SOURCE: Society for Research in Child Development news release, July 9, 2004
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