Economic Hardship and Child Abuse

August 25, 2022
Moorestown DYFS Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Provide Legal Counsel for Child Abuse and Child Neglect Cases.
Moorestown DYFS Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Provide Legal Counsel for Child Abuse and Child Neglect Cases.

In recent years, making ends meet has become even more difficult for Americans throughout the country. Nearly two-thirds of families are living paycheck to paycheck as gas prices and grocery costs continue to rise. Statistics confirm that children living in poverty experience many disadvantages in the areas of development, physical and mental health, and academic achievement. However, there is also new evidence showing that poverty and economic disadvantage are directly connected to child abuse.

Court advocates and DYFS agencies have stated they are seeing more children suffer from some form of trauma at home and are concerned that parents are taking their financial stress out on their children. Explaining that economic strain can lead to increased conflict and violence in family homes, they note that it is often children who suffer from the trauma and abuse. Advocates attribute inflation and housing crisis, which are also associated with an increased risk of poverty, to the rise they have seen in emotional trauma and child abuse cases.

How Are Children Affected by Economic Stress?

While many people think of violence and physical abuse when they consider child maltreatment, either willful or unintentional neglect also constitutes child abuse. In the United States, children living in financially strained households are five times more at risk for neglect and other forms of child abuse compared to children from families with higher socio-economic status. In fact, neglect is the most frequently investigated type of child maltreatment in the country, as well as the type most commonly associated with poverty.

Advocates who work in centers and shelters for abused children and women see the consequences of child neglect and hidden trauma daily, including emotional problems and behavioral issues in the children they work with. They have also seen firsthand how poverty and unaffordable or inaccessible housing adversely impacts families and children.

Child abuse can cause excessive or prolonged activation of stress response systems in children’s bodies and brain. This is known as toxic stress, which can have lifelong, damaging effects on children’s learning, behavior, physical and mental health. While children from all backgrounds face adverse experiences, children growing up in disadvantaged communities are typically subjected to more toxic stress in comparison. Supportive and responsive relationships with adults early in life can prevent or reverse the damaging effects of toxic stress on children. Unfortunately, not all children have the advantage of those types of adult relationships.

Lower socio-economic status is a significant risk factor for child abuse, due to the stress it places on the caregivers in the family. Families facing economic disadvantage are generally struggling to financially meet the basic needs of their families. Economic hardship can also negatively impact the quality and capacity of parenting, because of changes in parenting behaviors and family dynamics. It has been reported children from low-income families were four times more likely to have a parent with an identified mental health issue.

Child abuse resulting from economic hardship can have long-term consequences on children, including:

  • Physical and mental health
  • Disruptive social behaviors
  • Substance abuse and other risk behaviors
  • Development issues
  • Academic struggle

There is also a strong relationship between lower socio-economic background and accessibility of social supports and resources. While economic hardship is associated with a higher likelihood of maltreatment, financial support been found to help to prevent child abuse and neglect. Recent findings indicate that income support to families can play a causal role in reducing the likelihood of child maltreatment, and that increasing the minimum wage by $1 led to significantly fewer reports of child neglect.

What Are Other Costs of Child Abuse and Neglect?

Like the social consequences of child maltreatment, the economic costs of child abuse and neglect can be difficult to calculate. Certain costs are straightforward and directly related to the abuse, such as:

  • Medical bills and hospital costs for the treatment of injuries sustained as a result of physical abuse
  • Expenses related to injuries and trauma caused by sexual and emotional abuse
  • Foster care costs resulting from the removal of children when they cannot remain safely with their families

Other costs that are less directly tied to the incidence of child abuse but equally significant, include:

  • Adult criminality
  • Lifelong mental health problems
  • Lower academic achievement

According to a recent study by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study, the total lifetime financial costs associated with just one year of confirmed cases of child maltreatment, including physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, and neglect is an estimated $124 billion.

What Does This Mean?

There is a strong relationship between lower socio-economic background and accessibility of social supports and resources. Research consistently reflects poverty to be a key driver of child welfare system involvement with families. Evidence has also shown that even modest economic supports can stabilize families and alleviate the need for more intensive intervention. Separating economic supports from the services available through child welfare programs, many of which are unnecessarily circuitous and burdensome, can lead to more effective avenues of support for families needing financial assistance.

Current studies indicate the need to develop a multi-system approach to address economic hardship and its impact on family dynamics. The suggested collaborative approach involves:

  • The use of economic and other concrete supports to help families address basic needs and create safer environments for children to thrive in
  • Developing policy levers to support and encourage practices that stabilize rather than separate families.
  • Expanding the capacity to deliver supports across human service agencies through new pathways that are accessible to the families that need them.
  • Creating a framework to define and identify economic risk and child maltreatment, measure family well-being, and quantify the impact of economic supports.
  • Utilizing key stakeholders and individuals with lived experience to ensure system shifts reflect the priorities and real needs of families

There is a promising array of prevention and response programs that have the potential to reduce child maltreatment in homes affected by economic hardship. However, despite greater awareness, child abuse and neglect continue to be a major nationwide concern.

Moorestown DYFS Lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker Provide Legal Counsel for Child Abuse and Child Neglect Cases

The experienced Moorestown DYFS lawyers at the Law Offices of Theodore J. Baker provide guidance and legal representation for families facing child neglect or child abuse allegations. Theodore J. Baker combines 20 years of experience with his vast knowledge of the law to protect at-risk children while ensuring the legal rights of parents and caregivers are protected. Call us today at 856-795-9400 or contact us online to schedule a consultation about your case. With offices in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Haddonfield, Marlton, Medford, Moorestown, Mount Laurel, and Voorhees.

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