New research from The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia finds that poverty can slow a baby’s language and cognitive development even before the first birthday.
Researchers studied 52 babies. Half were living at or below the poverty line, and the other half were living above it. The parents of the wealthier babies had to have graduated from high school.
The team went to the babies’ houses to study their environments.
“You actually go to the home and you assess a variety of things in the home. For example, are there books? Does the baby have appropriate toys in the home. What’s the interaction of the mother and the child?” said lead researcher Hallam Hurt, a neonatologist at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. What her team found was that there was higher stress in the lower income group, and that their homes were less child-centered.
“From the get-go these babies are facing disadvantages,” she said, explaining that their families were also contending with problems like food insecurity and the ripple effects of living in under-resourced neighborhoods.
The low income babies were behind the higher income group on cognitive and language measures. But they were still within the average range.
“And it is heartbreaking to think … that in aggregate, we know that the scores are going to go down,” she continued, acknowledging that some kids excel despite difficult circumstances.
Hurt said support for poor families can’t come early enough. And while there’s no clear silver bullet, even providing age-appropriate toys or offering parents help before children fall behind could make a difference.