Crack Babies in School

by Press Release-Rutgers | Jan 31, 2005
Crack Babies in School Janet Thomas remembers using the Paul Robeson Library on the Rutgers University—Camden campus as a Camden High School student in the mid 80s. Now that she teaches at the graduate department of public policy and administration at Rutgers-Camden, Thomas is adding her own books to the library shelves.

Her new book, “Educating Drug-Exposed Children: The Aftermath of the Crack-Baby Crisis.” (RoutlegeFalmer, 2004) examines the mounting problems public school teachers face to educate this forgotten population of drug-exposed children.

Offering the first public school perspective on this topic, the Rutgers-Camden scholar researched school districts and interviewed teachers in Champaign, Ill.; Cook County, (Chicago) Ill.; and Baltimore, Md. –- all regions with high numbers of drug-exposed children. Her findings suggest that public schools need to act now by directing teachers how to respond to drug-affected children. Even though the crack baby crisis was forecasted more than a decade ago, school districts still have no system for tracking, assessing, or monitoring these students who are struggling.

According to Thomas’ research, many drug-exposed children are mistakenly classified as special education students. Although they often test out of this categorization, their inconsistent behaviors –- one day they are quick learners, the next they struggle –- coupled with emotional outbursts have teachers grabbling with how best to educate these students. Most importantly, teachers need help in officially identifying a drug-exposed child and having clear guidelines on how to best educate them. What developmental impairments these children do have only worsen as they remain in the school system without appropriate interventions.

Why has our society lost track of the crack baby crisis? In 1994, the political climate in the U.S. changed, and the “say no to drugs” campaign stopped fanning the crack baby epidemic to the media. But the Rutgers-Camden scholar points out that the crack baby stigma and its encompassing problems are still ongoing. “A long term plan for educating these children is still not clear,” says Thomas. Once a national cause celebre, the crack baby crisis faded from cultural consciousness in the mid-1990s. But the Rutgers-Camden scholar points out that the crack baby stigma and its encompassing problems are still widespread. “A long-term plan for these children is yet to be delivered,” says Thomas.

Until now, research on drug-exposed children has also tapered off. The first wave of findings predicted that crack babies would be severely damaged and biologically inferior people. This was followed by a second wave of research that downplayed earlier findings and classified crack babies as having developmental issues, but testing within the normal cognitive range. Thomas says that the conflicting long-term medical findings on pre-natal crack exposure have hampered public understanding and policy. Now there is a dire need, through public policy, for educational interventions that address the psychosocial risk factors these children are facing.

“Although these children do have developmental challenges, teachers pointed out the crack baby stigma has poorly represented their abilities,” says Thomas. Ideally, the problems drug-exposed children face should be addressed before they start their education, the Rutgers-Camden scholar continues. Family-focused drug treatment programs are essential to bettering the drug-exposed child.

Thomas has earned degrees from Norfolk State University, Widener University, and University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She spent three years at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Social Organization of Schools conducting post-doctoral research.

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Author: Press Release-Rutgers

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