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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