More evidence that poverty leads to child abuse

Professor Paul Bywaters, with Guy Skinner of the Tavistock and Portman NHS Trust, produced The relationship between poverty and child abuse and neglect: new evidencea literature review of the last five years of research.

Funded by the Nuffield Foundation, it complements the work of the Child Welfare Inequalities Project and a review of previous research published by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation in early 2016.

The new report is based on a review of 90 research papers and found that changes in income alone, holding all other factors constant, have a major impact on the number of child abusers. Income reductions and other economic shocks increase the number of victims of neglect and abuse, while income improvements reduce these numbers.

It also concludes that local authority child services often did not take sufficient account of the socio-economic circumstances affecting families, and that more information is needed on how poverty influences the number of children from different backgrounds who are victims of harm.

“The international data on the relationship between poverty and child abuse and neglect is much stronger today than it was five years ago,” says Professor Bywaters.

“Based on this research, we can be certain that increased pressures on family life will put more children at risk of child abuse, abuse and neglect unless government and service providers do something about it. can react more effectively.

“There is a need for the government to ensure that all families have the basic conditions to bring up their children successfully, but the Chancellor’s spring statement was a disappointment. Families also need a better response from local government and local practitioners to the poverty they experience.

“There is a real need for more detailed and nuanced information about how the relationship between poverty and abuse and neglect works, particularly how it affects different children differently. Better knowledge of how poverty, abuse and neglect affect children of different ages and backgrounds, and especially children with disabilities, is vital. »

The research took place in the period which included the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and although domestic violence by partners was found to have increased during periods of lockdown, Professor Bywaters says it is too early to say. say whether the pandemic has led to an increase in the number of child abuse and neglect victims.

“There were no big immediate changes in the number of children in child protection plans. There were a few small changes, but they tended to be in line with trends already underway.

“It doesn’t appear that the system has been shocked by the number of children identified as having serious problems. However, with the Resolution Foundation predicting that 500,000 more children will fall into absolute poverty next year and pressure on local authority budgets due to high inflation, it is to be expected that the acute pressures on families lead to more child abuse and neglect.

Rob Street, Director of Justice at the Nuffield Foundation, said: “Children’s services are already under pressure due to the increased use of child protection interventions over the past decade, particularly for children living in the poorest areas, as well as cuts in preventive services to support families. . This review provides further evidence that poverty is a significant risk factor for children, and we must take action to ease the financial pressures on families if we are to prevent harm.


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