Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy

An Occupational Perspective of Childhood Poverty

Academic journal article New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy

An Occupational Perspective of Childhood Poverty

Article excerpt

Abstract

While living in poverty is known to have important health consequences for children, its impact on their occupations is not as well understood. This article brings together international and New Zealand (NZ) national policy documents and evidence from research to examine the effect of poverty on children's occupations and the potential contribution of occupational therapists to this important public health issue. Child poverty can be framed as occupationally unjust and can lead to occupational deprivation for these children. The authors suggest that occupational therapists, with their belief in achieving equitable health outcomes through meaningful occupation, can work in a transdisciplinary way to help children living in a state of poverty.

Key words

Occupational therapy, poverty, children, public health, social determinants of health.

Reference

Leadley, S., & Hocking, C. (2017). An occupational perspective of childhood poverty. New Zealand Journal of Occupational Therapy, 64(1), 23-31.

Introduction

Just under a third of all children in Aotearoa New Zealand live in financial poverty (Child Poverty Action Group [CPAG], 2014). The profoundly negative effects of poverty on children's health is an important public health issue that has been well documented. What is less well understood is the impact of social factors such as poverty (i.e. relative poverty or low income) on children's occupations and the consequent impact on their prospects in life. Whilst the cause of poverty is multifaceted, and can be mediated by various factors (e.g. positive parenting and social support, education, employment) material poverty has been widely researched and is the focus of this article. The risks that children living in poverty face are exacerbated by the widening gap between the poor and the rich, especially in developed and wealthier countries (UNICEF Office of Research, 2014). There is broad agreement amongst those advocating on behalf of children that action needs to be taken urgently to address this growing inequality (World Health Organization, 2008). This article brings together international and national policy documents and evidence from research with the goal of examining occupational therapists' potential contribution to ameliorating the impact of child poverty. It proposes that occupational therapists, with their belief in achieving equitable health outcomes through meaningful occupation, can work in a transdisciplinary way to help children living in a state of poverty.

This review was conducted as part of a master's programme being completed at AUT by the lead author. Its aim was to better understand how social factors such as poverty effect children's occupations, rather than the mechanisms by which people fall into or progress out of poverty. An initial literature review was completed using keyword search terms such as occupational therapy, child poverty and New Zealand but also included a wider review of occupational therapy's role in public health and the broader issue of child poverty. Databases used included EBSCO and SCOPUS. A further review of references in articles reviewed, along with searches of relevant NZ websites (e.g. OTNZ-WNA, UNICEF, Child Commissioner, Child Poverty Action Group NZ), revealed further pertinent resources.

Poverty and health inequity

Socioeconomic deprivation, or poverty, is commonly defined as not being able to experience well-being over a range of life circumstances or a level of deprivation below what society deems acceptable (Gunasekara, Carter, Crampton, & Blakely, 2013). Relative poverty can be understood as the level of income or deprivation that falls below a threshold which society deems acceptable (Gunasekara et al., 2013). Experiencing poverty has been described as a "lack of freedom", a "crushing daily burden... and fear of what the future will bring" (The World Bank, n. …

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