In many developing countries, unsupervised children spend much of their time in the urban environment and in the context of extreme poverty. These 'street children' are generally not attending school, psychological traumas are common and rates of substance abuse are high. The multiple deprivations suffered and the exposure to factors mitigating normal neurocognitive development would suggest that attainment of optimal intellectual function would be hindered. This would have implications for interventions aimed at bringing these children back into mainstream society, which generally favour reintegration into educational programs. Despite this, there is scant published material on intelligence testing of samples of street children. A systematic review and meta-analysis of the existing academic literature was conducted in English and Spanish. Only four studies of street children that included data on intelligence tests or proxy measures of intellectual functioning could be identified. These reports, from Colombia, Indonesia, Ethiopia and South Africa, described 165 different children. Mean scores from the street children were compared with control sample means or population norm estimates, in the later case adjustments were made for cross-cultural comparisons and for the Flynn effect. The adjusted means were used to calculate effect sizes (Cohen’s d). In all four samples, performance was below that which would be expected from the normal population, though there was much variation. The sample from Indonesia showed the smallest effect size (d=.25) and the sample from Ethiopia showed the largest effect size (d=2.87). The mean unweighted effect size was 1.27. Although limited by the dearth of research on the topic, the current results suggest that the multiple deprivations suffered by street children in developing countries tend to impair normal neurocognitive development, but that the extent of this varies by culture.
Graham Pluck, Chuo University, Japan
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