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Frequent Moves Said To Boost Risk of School Problems

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Children who move frequently are much more likely to have behavioral problems or fail a grade than their peers, a new study concludes.

The study, reported in the Sept. 15 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association, analyzed data on 9,915 six- to 17-year-olds who were involved in the 1988 National Health Interview Survey conducted by the Census Bureau.

While educators have long recognized the disruptive effects of frequent moves on children's schooling, the study is believed to be the first major effort to isolate the effects of moving from such other risk factors as poverty, race, single-parent family, or lack of parental education.

After adjusting for such factors, the study showed that children who moved often--at least six times from grades 1 to 12--were 77 percent more likely than those with few or no moves to have four or more behavior problems, and 35 percent more likely to fail a grade. Behavior problems ranged from acting depressed to fighting with peers.

Among the frequent movers, 18 percent had four or more behavior problems, and 23 percent had repeated a grade, compared with 7 percent and 12 percent, respectively, of the children who rarely moved.

Dr. David Wood, the principal author of the study and a professor of pediatrics at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, noted that poor families move 50 percent to 100 percent more often than more affluent families, and that other risk factors have an "additive'' effect to the problems linked with moving.

Potent Predictor

But the study's main contribution to the education field, Dr. Wood said, is showing that high mobility alone "is a very important predictor of whether a child will do well in school.''

"Schoolteachers know that moves are stressful for kids,'' he said, but the study suggests mobility is "as potent a predictor as having parents who are not well educated or parents who are poor.''

Dr. Wood said health professionals should recognize the role of frequent moves in "child dysfunction,'' include such data on intake questionnaires, and help refer highly mobile families for needed services.

He also urged the expansion of school-based resource centers to help families address issues that spur mobility and to provide more social services and support to those affected by moves.

Past studies focusing on "financially healthy'' populations, Dr. Wood noted, have tended to equate family moves with "individual betterment,'' while overlooking the grimmer conditions that lead poorer families to move and the consequences for children.

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