The Truth about Poverty & Child Abuse

According to the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report - ‘The Relationship Between Poverty, Child Abuse and Neglect: An Evidence Review’, there is a strong association between a family’s socio- economic circumstances and the chances that their children will experience child abuse and neglect. Evidence of this association is found repeatedly across developed countries and studies show that the greater the economic hardship, the greater the likelihood and severity of the child abuse.

Unfortunately the media rhetoric most prevalent in the UK is that poverty is the result of the choices people make in their lives. However, there is clear evidence to support behavioural explanations for poverty are circumstantial and limited at best.

Poverty and child neglect is most often caused by:

  • Parenting capacity - parents affected by mental and/or physical illness, learning disabilities, (lack of) prior education, shame and stigma.
  • Family capacity for investment - parents inability to procure care, respite or better environmental conditions.
  • Negative adult behaviours - domestic violence or substance use, often provoked or exacerbated by family stress.
  • External neighbourhood factors - both the social and physical environment.

The interactions between poverty and other contributory factors are complex and frequently circular. For example, poverty increases the risk of mental ill-health and mental ill-health increases the likelihood of poverty. Parental substance abuse accompanied by poverty is more likely to lead to contact with child protection services than substance abusers in a position of affluence.

Despite widespread advocacy of early intervention, resources for early support services in England have decreased significantly over the past five years, and there is still little or no evidence of interventions that directly confront the socio-economic difficulties faced by many families where child abuse and neglect is concerned.