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Child Poverty Its Causes and Impacts

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name a few; political, communal, environmental, and societal influences all play a role. As an example consider that; with the ever progressive move from a widespread agricultural, to a more localised industrial society, the number of jobs in many areas has decreased severely. And so the average number of "non-educated" workmen (or women) has subsequently decreased also. More and more Britain's are joining the ranks of the poor each day (roughly 2,000). And with parents out of work and not earning, children will suffer as a result. Every day 1 in every 4 children is born into poverty. (Joseph Rowntree Foundation, 1995)

This can lead to a number of consequences in children, which follows with them throughout adolescence and into adulthood. For example, children who grow up in families with a low income are more likely to experience mental health problems, and more likely to develop unhealthily.

Greg Duncan found associations between poverty and poor health, cognitive development, behaviour, emotional well being and academic achievement.

He also found that pregnant mothers who have insufficient resources such as food and warmth are 1.7 times more likely to give birth to a low weight baby, that child is then 2 times more likely to drop out of school, and 3.1 times more likely have an out of wed-lock birth (Duncan 1997).

Although short term poverty can be overcome and the effects are reversible, long term poverty can be destructive on a child's life. Duncan found that children who had experienced 4-5 years of their early years of life in poverty, achieved a full 9 year decline on intelligence test scores compared to children from healthy backgrounds (Duncan 1997).

The standards of living associated with children from poor families can have a negative effect on their health. For example, they are more vulnerable to asthma due to poor ventilation, as well as pneumonia due to poor insulation. Interestingly, they are also more vulnerable to developing obesity since a high carbohydrate, processed diet is the cheaper option.

Those children are often excluded from participating in social activities, through both financial disadvantages as well as feeling the pressure of social stigma - which can develop from having to dress inappropriately, or through receiving charity food, books, furniture and other necessities. It leads to a loss of self esteem, can be de-motivating, leads to less elevation after the simplest of pleasures, and poor ability to cope with stressful situations. Not only are they more likely to develop psychological problems as a result, these effects last longer than in those who are well off. And this leads to a vicious cycle of depression, leading to increased likelihood of a stressful event, leading to further depression.

In Novak's (1995) view, this can lead to long term, irreversible changes in personality, such as; self defeatist attitudes, hopelessness, helplessness, low motivation, low drive, bitterness, aggressiveness and anti social personality disorder. Children with the latter are seen to be impulsive, have high sensation seeking, but without sense of morals or justice. It is often associated with young offenders, school drop outs, and those serving long term sentences. For these reasons, it is necessary for social workers; to get into family homes, assess their state of living, their needs, risk factors, problems, difficulties and anything else that is helpful for them to make an accurate evaluation, and to give them a better understanding. Late interventions can be damaging, for the longer things are kept untreated the harder they are to change. It is important that children are given opportunities in life to maximise their potential and make a contribution to society. Without the proper guidance and support, they are likely to sink further and further. So it is clear that help is required.

There has long been argument that to tackle poverty, social work (SW) would do best to "position itself in and against the state. Workers are known to follow law, policy, the rules and regulations of agencies etc, whilst at the same time assuming a flexible role in relation to the safeguarding and supporting of individuals and families". (Bailey and Brake, 1975; Corrigan and Leonard, 1978; Bolger et al., 1981; Becker and MacPherson, 1988; Adams et al., 1998)

Childhood poverty holds great relevance for social workers for it defines their very existence. If the role of social workers is to promote well being in the community, and to help young individuals achieve their potential and to function in society, then those in poverty will be the people who need help most.

The Poverty and Social Exclusion Survey (PSE Survey, Joseph Rowntree Foundation 1999), which collected a number of individuals portraying an average society, found that 28% of the population were in poverty. Each of them were presented with 52 cards, each revealing an object or activity, such as central heating, a computer, going to the cinema. They were instructed to form two piles; one for items they believed were vital for living, the other for those which were not. For all those items where the majority voted them to be vital, researchers concluded that every person should have at least these in their lives. Social workers may use this as a base line when assessing families, and when children lack any (or all) of these so called necessities (i.e. are in poverty) then help should be provided; for without it, children will likely grow up depressed, suicidal or conversely, aggressive and violent.

Children are vulnerable to feelings of hopelessness due to this lack of necessities.A build up of long term worries accompanying a loss of control combined with a sense of dependence, is likely to lead to distress. Chronic anxiety and even depression is not uncommon, which can be exacerbated by an oppressive society.

Children from poorer backgrounds are well recognised as they are the ones who do not go on school trips, may dress differently to the rest, not have the correct equipment in lessons, have a more definable smell (not a pleasant one) etc. For those who spend time with such children it is likely they will be excluded from social groups as a result; for they become associated with the outsider and so they themselves are now too an outsider. Society recognises and treats differently any person (adults too) who stands out for whatever reason good or bad. Of course they are no different from the next person; however it is because others see them as different that they are made to feel paranoid. Paranoid that wherever they are people are staring at them, talking about them, thinking all sorts of thoughts. It is enough to cause any child, adult, man or woman huge distress and can affect their ability to be trusting around complete strangers.




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