(1) To document, at ages 8 to 10, children’s perceptions of their future and, at ages 16 to 18, youth outcomes; and (2) to assess early childhood factors associated with trajectory-altering events (TAEs), defined as youth risk behaviors that may modify developmental trajectories.


A prospective longitudinal study of 97 poor, inner-city, African American youth followed since birth who completed (1) early childhood environment, cognitive, and social-emotional evaluations, as well as an inventory at ages 8 to 10 of perceptions of their futures; and (2) evaluation for presence or absence of 4 TAEs documented at ages 16 to 18: drug use, adjudication, school failure, and teen parenthood.


At age 9.4 ± 0.5, 94% of participants felt it unlikely they would try marijuana; 93% felt they were unlikely to get arrested; 92% felt they were likely to attend college or trade school; 81% did not know one could become pregnant with first-time sex. Age 18.1 ± 0.8 outcomes showed that 33% had used drugs, 33% had been adjudicated, 19% had school failure, and 20% had become parents. Fifty-six percent had ≥1 TAE. No relationship was found between childhood perceptions and intentions and documented outcomes. Odds of having a TAE increased with greater exposure to violence and poorer home environment.


Young inner-city children are idealistic regarding their future. By ages 16 to 18 however, more than half of this cohort had a TAE. Factors most strongly associated with a TAE were greater exposure to violence and poorer home environment.

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