Does Poverty Cause Child Abuse?

Poor parents are no more likely to hurt or neglect their kids, the author argues. They’re just more likely to be punished for failings both real and imagined.

Cornell University released a large study last month positing that poverty causes higher instances of child abuse and neglect. Considering the advance publicity, it seemed to me that the average reader might overlook the crucial role that socioeconomic and racial biases play in determining which families come under the scrutiny of the child welfare system to begin with.

While poverty is widely recognized as a risk factor in abuse and neglect cases, it is by no means a cause of abuse and neglect. Children are just as likely to be abused or neglected in wealthy homes as in poor ones. However, wealthier white families are simply not under the same scrutiny that brings families of color of low socioeconomic status to the attention of child welfare authorities.

Is this increased scrutiny due to societal or systemic factors that make living conditions worse for minority families? Or is it due to implicit biases? Disproportionate minority representation of children of color in foster care is a complex one with many contributing factors. But as much as people may want to deny it, this is due in part to implicit bias and choices that are made by decision-makers who encounter these families. Consider the brief released in June 2011 by University of Chicago research institute Chapin Hall, which argued that that foster care placement is needed to protect black children from the “self-destructive behavior” that occurs in “racially segregated impoverished enclaves.”

Written by Dawn Post.  To read the full article, click here.  For more information on family law and divorce matters in San Diego and/or Riverside county, please visit our website at, and follow us everywhere @jbwrookslaw.

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