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June 2023Vol. 24, No. 5A New Publication Explores the Intersection of Poverty and Neglect in Child Welfare

A new publication from Child Welfare Information Gateway, Separating Poverty From Neglect in Child Welfare, explores the intersection of poverty and neglect in families who become involved with the child welfare system. Families who are experiencing poverty are more likely to be reported to child protective services than those who are not. Therefore, it is crucial that child welfare systems account for the role of poverty in system involvement.

Released in February 2023, the issue brief explores research on the overlap among families experiencing poverty and those reported to the child welfare system for neglect, the societal context within which both poverty and neglect exist, and strategies that have proven effective for preventing and addressing poverty and neglect.

Confusing poverty with neglect has potential to lead to unnecessary family separation, so it is important that child welfare professionals are conscious of the increased likelihood of families who are poor to be reported to child protective services. It is also important to understand and address the racial element of the issue, since Black, Brown, and American Indian/Alaska Native families disproportionately experience both intergenerational poverty and child welfare system involvement.

The publication includes an indepth review of proven strategies to address poverty and neglect in its “What Works” section. At the policy level, an important step is ensuring that states explicitly exclude poverty-related conditions from their definitions of child abuse and neglect so that children are not separated from their families solely because of poverty and poverty-related issues, such as inadequate housing. Other policy-level strategies include expanded Medicaid coverage, increased minimum wage, subsidized child care, and housing assistance.

In addition to these preventative strategies, the publication includes sections with information about addressing neglect in the context of poverty and addressing poverty-related concerns experienced by families involved with child welfare. The latter section includes the following strategies:

  • Assess and address concrete needs first
  • Take a two-generation approach to working with families
  • Ensure compliance with the Indian Child Welfare Act
  • Offer or refer to benefit navigator services
  • Identify and/or offer flexible funds for families
  • Codesign supports with people with lived experience
  • Engage community partners
  • Focus on strengths
  • Connect families with preventative legal advocacy

For more information, read the publication Separating Poverty From Neglect in Child Welfare on the Information Gateway website.