Intensive parenting and health education provided in homes of pregnant American Indian teens reduced the mothers’ illegal drug use, depression, and behavior problems, and set their young children on track to meet behavioral and emotional milestones they might have otherwise missed.
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health-led research also suggests that employing local community health educators instead of more formally educated nurses to counsel young at-risk mothers could be cost-effective and provide badly needed jobs to high school graduates from the same impoverished communities. While the study was conducted in four American Indian communities in the Southwest, the researchers note that its success could likely be replicated in other low-income populations around the United States.
A report on the findings is published October 10 online in the American Journal of Psychiatry.
“For years in public health, we have been working on immunizations and other medical interventions to set the course for the health of disadvantaged children, and we have turned the tide,” says the study’s lead author, Dr. Allison Barlow, associate director of the Center for American Indian Health at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Now the burden is in multi-generational behavioral health problems, the substance abuse, depression and domestic violence that are transferred from parents to children. This intervention can help us break that cycle of despair.”
American Indian adolescents have the highest rates of teen pregnancy, substance use, suicide and dropping out of high school of any racial or ethnic group in the country.