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December/January 2020Vol. 20, No. 10Addressing Poverty in Child Neglect Cases

An article from the American Bar Association discusses the importance of looking at poverty as a cause of maltreatment rather than as being maltreatment itself.

The National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect, which is done on behalf of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services' Administration for Children and Families, found that children in families of low socioeconomic status (SES) were at significantly greater risk of abuse and neglect. The incidence rate of maltreatment in families of low SES is more than five times the rate of children in families that were not of low SES, with the incidence rate of abuse being more than three times higher and the and the risk of neglect being more than seven times higher. In addition, certain characteristics of poverty, such as unemployment and maternal depression, add to the risk of maltreatment among children in low-income families.

The article highlights state legislative and judicial approaches as well as state agency approaches to the link between poverty and neglect that differentiate between poverty as a cause of neglect and poverty as neglect.

State legislative and judicial approaches include the following:

  • Including a poverty exemption to states' definitions of neglect, such as outright exemption of neglect if poverty is a factor and exemptions for environmental factors not under the parents' control
  • Prohibiting the termination of parental rights based on poverty alone, unless it has been determined that the removal is in the best interests of the child

State agency approaches include the following:

  • Increasing availability and access to financial services, including subsidies and vouchers, employment services, and financial education 
  • Increasing parental self-advocacy, including encouraging families to increase their participation in decision-making and educating low-income parents about their increased risk of involvement with child protective services and their constitutional and legal rights as respondents
  • Using a differential response approach that treats reports of child neglect in poor families with a family needs assessment rather than an adversarial and investigative approach

To read the article, "Addressing the Underlying Issue of Poverty in Child-Neglect Cases," visit