Academic journal article Child Welfare

Child Maltreatment Entrenched by Poverty: How Financial Need Is Linked to Poorer Outcomes in Family Preservation

Academic journal article Child Welfare

Child Maltreatment Entrenched by Poverty: How Financial Need Is Linked to Poorer Outcomes in Family Preservation

Article excerpt

Of the victims of child abuse and/or neglect in the United States in 2012, more than half (61.4%) were not removed from their homes after the initial investigation or assessment (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families, Administration on Children, Youth and Families, Children's Bureau [USDHHS],2012).This means that, in more cases than not, children remained with families that had struggled to care for them adequately, and the child welfare system was tasked with ensuring they were safe.The child welfare system then provided "family preservation services" to (a) protect children, while also (b) supporting families as they become able to care for their children, to prevent foster care placement and subsequent maltreatment.

By the end of the 2012 federal fiscal year, 397,122 children and youth were in foster care (USDHHS, 2013). The case goal for the greatest number (53%) of these children and youth was reunification with their family of origin (USDHHS), and of the 241,254 that exited out-of-home care in 2012, 51% were reunified (USDHHS). Even when children are removed from their families for safety, the child welfare system seems to operate on the foundation that the most desirable setting for children and youth is ultimately with their families of origin, where possible.

In 2012, the largest percentage (78.3%) of child maltreatment cases were neglect (USDHHS, 2012), defined as "failure by the caregiver to provide needed, age appropriate care although financially able to do so or offered financial or other means to do so" (USDHHS, p. 117). Despite this definition, poverty at the neighborhood level is strongly associated with child neglect (Drake & Pandey, 1996) and the Fourth National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect (Sedlak et ah, 2010) found that lower socioeconomic status of families continues to be associated with a higher risk of maltreatment (above that which can be accounted for by increased visibility to the system). Low income has a detrimental effect on routine medical and dental care and the quality of the caregiving environment (Berger, 2004). Slack et al. (2011) found that families who received financial and material assistance through friends and family were more likely to experience neglect. Inadequate housing and receipt of public assistance have been associated with significantly increased risk of child maltreatment recurrence (Palusci, 2011). Jonson-Reid, Emery, Drake, and Stahlschmidt (2010) report that even though certain family characteristics have differential effects on families'repeated experience with the child welfare system, not having received public financial assistance is a protective factor against re-reports of child maltreatment. Most recently, Brooks-Gunn, Schneider, and Waldfogel (2013) demonstrated that the Great Recession (2007-2010) impacted child abuse and neglect risk as the associated economic hardship changed parenting behaviors, increasing high frequency maternal spanking. This latest finding indicates that the economy plays a role in families'child maltreatment risk in not only the most prevalent type of maltreatment (neglect), but also in the next most prevalent type (physical abuse).

Policy makers have historically been reluctant to directly link poverty to child maltreatment (Nelson, 1984), which may be why they seem slow to change economic-related social policy with the goal of improving abuse and neglect rates (Eamon, 1994). However, some have proposed that public policy and service providers have a responsibility to address poverty within child welfare intervention by providing targeted housing, financial, and material support to families, above and beyond entitlement and means-tested benefits already available to them. (Fanshel, Finch, & Grundy, 1992; Lindsey, 2004; MacLeod & Nelson, 2000). Lindsey has even gone so far as to refer to child maltreatment as the "red herring of child welfare" (p. …

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