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Poverty and child welfare

Information about poverty, its effects on children and families, and the role it plays in child welfare involvement.

Effects of poverty on families

Poverty can negatively impact families and caregivers in a number of ways:

  • As with children, adults who live in poverty experience worse health outcomes, including higher mortality rates and increased risk of mental health conditions (e.g. depression, substance use disorders). The stress of poverty, coupled with inadequate health care access and limited financial resources for treatment, further exacerbates health conditions and makes parenting even more challenging
  • Poverty can create considerable stress for families. As per the family stress model, poverty can contribute to interparental conflict, which plays a key role in family dynamics and can be a precursor to negative child outcomes. Conflict can also arise between children and parents because of economic pressures. For example, children may resent parents for having to work late or not being able to provide small luxuries. Finally, the living conditions associated with poverty - notably overcrowded housing and housing instability - can negatively affect all family relationships, including sibling relationships
  • Poverty can make it difficult for parents to maintain a work-life balance that allows them to spend time at home caring for their children and to be active and involved with school, extracurricular activities, and community life. Parents on a low income are more likely to work long hours in precarious jobs that do not provide basic supports like parental leave and sick pay. Low-income workers typically also have less flexibility and choice than other parents (for example, they must rely on public transportation and do not have access to work-from-home options)
  • Low-income fathers and paternal family members may be at risk of reduced family involvement due to negative perceptions they may have regarding their value and ability to fill the role of father as economic provider. It's important to note that the relationship between poverty and father involvement is complicated, as structural violence and other systemic barriers also play a role. Recent research also indicates that, despite racist and classist stereotypes about "deadbeat dads," the majority of low-income fathers are involved with their children once the definition of fatherhood is expanded beyond financial contributor

Spotlight on low-income parenting