Objective: To test the effect of prenatal and infancy home visits by nurses on 12-year-old, firstborn children's use of substances, behavioral adjustment, and academic achievement.
Design: Randomized controlled trial.
Setting: Public system of obstetric and pediatric care in Memphis, Tennessee.
Participants: We studied 12-year-old, firstborn children (n = 613) of primarily African American, economically disadvantaged women (743 randomized during pregnancy).
Intervention: Program of prenatal and infancy home visits by nurses.
Outcome measures: Use of cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana; internalizing, externalizing, and total behavioral problems; and academic achievement.
Results: By the time the firstborn child was 12 years of age, those visited by nurses, compared with those in the control group, reported fewer days of having used cigarettes, alcohol, and marijuana during the 30-day period before the 12-year interview (0.03 vs 0.18, P = .02) and were less likely to report having internalizing disorders that met the borderline or clinical threshold (22.1% vs 30.9%, P = .04). Nurse-visited children born to mothers with low psychological resources, compared with their control group counterparts, scored higher on the Peabody Individual Achievement Tests in reading and math (88.78 vs 85.70, P = .009) and, during their first 6 years of education, scored higher on group-administered standardized tests of math and reading achievement (40.52 vs 34.85, P = .02). No statistically significant program effects were found on children's externalizing or total behavioral problems.
Conclusions: Through age 12, the program reduced children's use of substances and internalizing mental health problems and improved the academic achievement of children born to mothers with low psychological resources.
Trial registration: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT00438165.