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December/January 2020Vol. 20, No. 10Promising Policies and Practices to Reduce Role of Poverty in Child Neglect Cases

An article looking at poverty as a major risk factor for child neglect—which accounts for almost three-quarters of all child welfare cases—points to promising policies and practices that can strengthen and support families through services and interventions that provide basic needs. The authors suggest that the role of poverty is too often overlooked in cases of child neglect and that providing families with supportive services might cut down on the number of child welfare cases. They explain that because poverty is defined as inadequate food, shelter, and clothing, it is too often mistaken for neglect.

The article points to creative state and local approaches that seek to address the role of poverty and racial and ethnic disparities in child welfare by helping families access services. For example, the article discusses how implementing differential response in some child welfare jurisdictions has helped to identify the underlying risks of neglect, which authors suggest might more appropriately be referred to as "untreated poverty syndrome." Advantages of such an approach include an enhanced partnership role for the family in identifying appropriate and customized services and a reduction in family separations and associated trauma.

The articles discusses other approaches that have helped address the nexus of poverty and neglect, including improved collaboration among child welfare and public service agencies that provide prevention services and economic supports, public and private partnerships that promote legal representation for parents and children in child welfare cases, parent advocacy groups to educate low-income parents about their heightened risk for child welfare involvement, and poverty exemptions in some jurisdictions.

The article concludes by contending that child welfare agencies need to be able to respond to both a family's immediate poverty-related safety risks and longer-term needs for financial stability to reduce removals from the home and racial and ethnic disparities.

"Addressing Poverty as a Major Risk Factor in Child Neglect: Promising Policy and Practice," by J. Duva and S. Metzger (Protecting Children, 25), is available at