In the United States, poverty is the most important predictor of child maltreatment. Since the U.S. currently ranks at the bottom of all developed nations in child poverty rate, it is no surprise that almost 700,000 children a year are victims of maltreatment. Children currently are the poorest segment of our society. Children who endure maltreatment such as abuse and neglect face life-long physical and mental health challenges that limit their chance to lead a stable and productive adult life. Our future depends on raising generations of healthy, nurtured, resilient and educated children. Given the current prevalence of childhood poverty, our future is in jeopardy.

What You Need To Know

There are strong associations between poverty and child maltreatment, impacting child and adult health outcomes, educational attainment, and leading to numerous life-long consequences. All of this comes at a great economic cost to society.

Child poverty has profound implications for children’s physical, intellectual and emotional health. Infant mortality rates and low birth-weight rates are higher in poor families. Poor children, on average, have lower educational achievement. They enter kindergarten less prepared, they have lower reading and math skill levels, they complete less schooling, and they ultimately work and earn less than their peers.

Evidence suggests that early childhood trauma has great impact on neurologic, hormonal and immunologic systems. Children who are maltreated receive less health care, have higher rates of growth abnormalities, experience more developmental delay, have higher rates of early pregnancy and endure a range of chronic medical diseases.

If we want to ensure healthy and productive future generations, we must introduce more effective policies and programs that address child poverty so we can reduce maltreatment of children.

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Pursuing More Promising Programs

The United States has traditionally addressed child and family social welfare issues, such as child poverty, differently than most of the world’s industrialized nations. Our decisions have resulted in a fragmented approach. Currently, social policies for child maltreatment focus on incidences after they have occurred. They are aimed at finding care and safe environments for the child. Funding has not been invested in prevention efforts that might ultimately reduce the risk for child maltreatment, such as those that mitigate family poverty.

Our ability to impact child maltreatment in a significant way depends on our fostering policies and legislation that reduce poverty for both children and adults. Since having an impoverished parent puts a child at increased risk, providing health care, educational support, child care, nutritional support and other assistance to all members of a family will ultimately benefit the next generation of Americans and be most cost effective in the long run.

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A cited statistic reads that 44% of African-American children under the age of 5 live in poverty. Another notes that children living in homes with annual incomes of $15K (or less) are more likely to experience maltreatment. It is perplexing when low-income men and women do not look at their income level and decide that having children is not economically feasible. Indeed, we should be a society that provides care for the innocent children affected by their parent’s irresponsibility. However, this may also perpetuate the problem. (The statistics seem to get worse, not better.) As these children grow into adults, who will teach them personal responsibility when their parents have no concern for it? There is a problem at the very core of society that more governmental policies and programs will ever be able to fix.


(I feel that this article could be paired with the first article posted here, 'Mom's friends', Arts & Sciences postdoc Amiyaal Ilany and professor Erol Akçay.) It also highlights a focus on the importance of educating all women, maybe at a lower cost than that of men to make up for the gender gap. Parents, family members as a team could be 'equally yoked' to contribute to the way in which children perceive themselves and others. If there were a gap poll, ha, to find gaps in social networking among adults in a reach out program of building of good relationships, which I think has traditionally come from faith based groups, with a true commitment to the care and nurturing of others, there would be less poverty. We do need our mothers, our worship of God, and our children sustained in a population/ working class that is changing. Necessity is the mother of invention, what say next of our lack of worship support as a nation? or our divisions in worship? How can we build relationships without faith, hope and love thru a true God? It has no name but there remains a rock foundation or a gap within a place in our hearts. We can be lukewarm as a society, fighting poverty half hearted or we can use our conviction of knowing every person matters and that could be any one of us. I would encourage women to relay to young mothers, encouraging parents with a hello, to let them know you celebrate life with them. It's a trust that finds its way to that solid foundation within our perception of self and others. Fighting poverty starts with perception, that everyone has gifts to bring to the table, anyone might need help, and to offer in love of what we know is certain, that all are loved and forgiven, looking forward thru mercy, by us, and by our Heavenly Father.

Mary Jo Keough

I strongly believe that not enough is done in our own country to help children that live in poverty. We do so much for other countries but not enough for our own. As you said, these children are our future. They need us and we should be there for them.
About the author

Debra Schilling Wolfe, MEd

Debra Schilling Wolfe is the founding Executive Director of the Field Center for Children’s Policy, Practice & Research, a collaboration of Penn’s Schools of Social Policy & Practice, Law, Medicine and Nursing and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, whose mission is to improve the lives of victims of child abuse and neglect through system-level reform. A nationally recognized expert in child maltreatment, Ms. Wolfe has held leadership roles in the child welfare arena for well over 30 years and has directed numerous innovative child welfare programs nationally. At the Field Center, Ms. Wolfe oversees the work of the center’s multidisciplinary team while advancing policy and practice improvement through consultation, research, and training on the local and national levels.