Poverty and Child Abuse, Neglect Examined

U.S Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif.U.S Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., speaks during the Capitol Hill briefing (photo right), “Understanding the Intersection of Poverty and Child Abuse and Neglect,” in December on Capitol Hill. NASW sponsored the event.

NASW sponsored a Capitol Hill briefing in December to discuss how child abuse and neglect and poverty often co-occur, and the importance of finding solutions to prevent both.

The briefing, called “Understanding the Intersection of Poverty and Child Abuse and Neglect,” was well-timed for the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, which was recognized in January.

The panel included Angelo McClain, NASW CEO; Katharine Briar-Lawson, dean of the School of Social Welfare at the University of Albany; Kristen Shook Slack, professor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Social Work; and JooYeun Chang, associate commissioner of the Children’s Bureau.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., who is chairwoman of the Congressional Social Work Caucus; and Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., who is co-chairwoman of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, also addressed the audience on the importance of tackling the issues that stem from the effects of poverty.

The panel discussed the importance of having the social work profession strive for economic equality across all demographics; the roles cash assistance programs, such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and other economic and family support efforts can have on vulnerable families; and policy changes that need to be put in place at the federal and state levels to prevent cuts to programs that help children affected by poverty.

“The research and the practice communities have long known that poverty is a co-occurring situation that accompanies most reported incidents of child abuse and neglect,” Slack said. “What we are beginning to understand is that strategies to reduce economic stressors in families at risk for child protective services intervention are able to prevent some portion of future maltreatment.”

Joan Levy Zlotnik, director of NASW’s Social Work Policy Institute, moderated the briefing. She also talked about the Institute of Medicine report “New Directions in Child Abuse and Neglect Research,” which was released in September.

“This briefing focuses on poverty because it is a risk factor especially for neglect, but for physical abuse as well, with recognition that multiple factors like poverty, and substance abuse and parental depression can heighten risk for maltreatment,” Zlotnik said. “While we know factors that can place children at risk, the IOM committee asserted that we need to learn more about actual causality.”

Lee said child neglect and poverty hurt the long-term development of the nation’s children. With the child poverty rate at 21 percent, cuts to any of the safety net programs, such as TANF, would create even more poverty, she said.

“Social workers and the profession of social work, our time is now,” Lee said. “Getting members of Congress to understand that we need to put people first, we need to address child abuse, poverty, we need to address mental health issues as priority, that’s an uphill battle. But I think the work you’re doing today and every day really drives it home on Capitol Hill.”

Along with the work of the Congressional Caucus on Foster Youth, Bass said she looks forward to 2014 and launching a new effort called the National Foster Youth Institute.

This “will hopefully help us in nationally organizing, with the vision of 435 advocates in each congressional district, to help move a movement forward,” Bass said. “Since I fundamentally believe … change has to be an inside as well as an outside strategy, I look forward to participating in both.”

The Council on Social Work Education and the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy sponsored the event with NASW.

Co-sponsors were the National Foster Care Coalition and the National Child Abuse Coalition.

More information:

The war on poverty: The 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty was celebrated on Jan. 8.

President Lyndon B. Johnson gave his first State of the Union address on this date in 1964, and “committed the nation to a war on poverty,” according to an NPR report.

At the time, one in five Americans lived in poverty, and Johnson was said to have had a personal affiliation with eliminating poverty due to his personal experiences with being poor as a child.

Several state and federal programs in place today, such as Medicare, Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) got their start because of Johnson’s War on Poverty initiative.

Today, about 15 percent of Americans are said to live in poverty, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2013 statistics.

Visit NPR to see the report For LBJ, The War On Poverty Was Personal.

Go to YouTube to see a video segment of the Capitol Hill briefing.