Erikson faculty to evaluate first of its kind lead exposure study

Erikson Institute is known for groundbreaking work in the field of early childhood, including applied research studies that respond directly to the needs of young children and the people who serve them. The most recent example of Erikson’s research impact was announced in July — when the Illinois Children’s Health Care Foundation awarded $600,000 over three years to Erikson Institute and the Legal Council for Health Justice to study childhood lead exposure in Berwyn, Cicero, and Rockford, Illinois.

Erikson faculty members Pamela Epley, PhD, and Samina Hadi-Tabassum, EdD, will evaluate developmental outcomes of children and families who have received services under a pilot project of the Illinois Part C/Early Intervention program. The program will provide preventative services aimed at reducing later effects associated with lead poisoning, such as ADHD, decreased cognitive functioning, and decreased self-regulation.

Lead poisoning remains the number one environmental health hazard affecting children. Exposure to low levels of lead has been proven to significantly increase the risk of developmental delays, behavioral problems, and learning disabilities. The EI/Lead Prevention Pilot Project study is the first to examine whether developmental interventions during children’s most formative years can prevent or remediate later delays for children who have been lead poisoned.

“This grant is incredibly important because this pilot is the first of its kind,” said Epley, an associate clinical professor and director of Special Education at Erikson. “While we know a lot about the negative effects of lead exposure on children’s development, public health initiatives, to date, have focused exclusively on preventing lead exposure but have not addressed strategies for children who have already been exposed.”

The pilot program will give families who have children with low levels of lead access to service coordinators, social workers, nutritionists, speech, occupational, physical, and developmental therapists who will evaluate their child and family needs and develop a plan to support each individual family.

Lead exposure in young children is not a new issue, but it remains a difficult one to address. “Despite the known harm caused by lead exposure, systems of public health, medicine, and social services struggle to provide families with the necessary testing, education, supports, and interventions to ensure the best possible outcomes for children,” said Amy Starin, ILCHF senior program officer.

Hadi-Tabassum, Erikson’s associate clinical professor and director of the Child Life Department at Erikson, spoke to the importance the project has for systemic change. “We know that lead contamination is due to cracking lead paint in old buildings and lead in our drinking pipes,” she said. “Our study will hopefully push municipalities to address lead in their homes, schools, and drinking water in order to stave off long-term cognitive delays in the children affected today.”