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Title:Damaged goods? Clinical conversations and the cultural construction of cocaine-exposed children in foster care
Author(s):Flentje, Gregory Laurence
Doctoral Committee Chair(s):Treichler, Paula A.
Department / Program:Communication
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Anthropology, Cultural
Sociology, Social Structure and Development
Health Sciences, Human Development
Abstract:Early on in the "crack era"--beginning roughly in 1985--a "cocaine-baby syndrome" characterized by jitteriness, inconsolability and poor social bonding was reported as were various birth defects, in the children of multiply addicted women who used cocaine. By the early 1990s, the reality of these effects and their causal link to cocaine was largely taken for granted.
The problem is that this "reality" does not exist. The evidence is based primarily on scattered case reports and small samples and is "substantiated" through poorly designed research and faulty analysis. Concluding that the majority of cocaine-exposed children are not so affected, I hypothesized that the surrounding sociocultural environment was as much the producer of the "cocaine baby" as the birth mother. Drawing on the idea of the "cultural construction of reality" advanced in the writings of Paula Treichler, and others, this theoretical position is rooted in the notion that human interactions produce science, medicine, social programs, knowledge, indeed, persons.
Using interviews of foster parents and a variety of professionals, medical, court and social service agency records and participant observation in a pediatric clinic as well as the daily activities of a social service agency with approximately 180 cocaine-exposed children in its charge, I constructed case vignettes describing the foster mothers of several cocaine-exposed children. The vignettes and supporting data provide a detailed description of cocaine-exposed children in foster care. Findings include the following. The conversations between foster parents and professionals about these children are initially central to the foster parents' knowledge of the child in their care. With time, the foster parents assume more authority and their experience of the child serves to confirm or contradict outside opinions and evaluations. The birth mothers are almost uniformly reviled by those involved in the foster care system and the children are viewed as their victims. Foster parent opinions vary on the children's potential. Foster care is an avenue for women to wield significant power in their community; not only are their particular skills and abilities valued, they are materially rewarded--by the state with money, by the community with praise, and by the children with smiles and love. Finally, the struggle to define cocaine-exposed children is not a simple search for the truth; it is a fierce and complicated fight to fit them into a larger picture, a picture often painted in advance by and for those they are destined to live with.
As a result of these findings, I make the following recommendations: (1) that "cocaine baby" and "crack kid" be eliminated from professional vocabularies, (2) that addicted birth mothers be given greater opportunities to receive drug treatment while retaining custody and involvement with their children, and (3) that ethnographic components be incorporated into clinical research so that the results will have human as well as scientific validity. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)
Issue Date:1994
Rights Information:Copyright 1994 Flentje, Gregory Laurence
Date Available in IDEALS:2011-05-07
Identifier in Online Catalog:AAI9512360
OCLC Identifier:(UMI)AAI9512360

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