Poverty risk factors and childhood development

Poverty Risk Factors and Childhood Development The World Bank reports that 2. 7 billion people live in moderate or extreme poverty. The conditions that poverty generates are intergenerational and devastating. Inadequate access to health care, protective services, education or a nutritional diet feeds a cycle of abject oppression. This is cycle of oppression is often most clearly manifested in children, as their developmental tracks are so sensitive to environmental factors. In the United States alone it is estimated that 21. 9% of children live below the poverty line (Allegretto, 2006). The environmental risk factors that poverty engenders are numerous and multi-faceted. In order to parse out the major contributing risk factors to child developmental and psychopathological issues, a more narrow analysis of particular manifestations of poverty must be considered. To this end, this paper will briefly engage the results of some studies which attempt to localize particular contributing factors that are determinant in the mental development of children. These studies are carefully to distinguish the biological factors that are often associated with families in low-income situations, such as low-birth weight and the social and cultural factors that exist. The results of the studies show to some degree of uniformity that while severe child developmental and psychological issues are the result of biological factors, many more moderate issues are in fact determined by the social and cultural consequences of poverty.
One of these social and cultural consequences is diminished maternal responsiveness, which is seen as inherently deleterious to the development of a child (Evans, Boxhill, & Pinkava, 2008). Maternal responsiveness is ability for a parent, specifically the mother to attend to the physiological, educational and emotional needs of a child. The failure to respond properly has obvious and immediate effects. Longitudinal studies have showed that “ the co-variation between family income and children’s socio-emotional development is largely mediated by maternal responsiveness” (Evans, Boxhill, & Pinkava, 2008, p. 232). In one study of 223 New York state families of both low-income and higher income families, sought to discover the reasons why poverty contributed to decreased maternal responsiveness found that parents in poverty situations encountered more psychosocial and physical stressors than their more affluent counterparts. These stressors include greater exposure to substandard housing, crowding, noise, toxins and security issues. Furthermore, the study showed that the other primary factor in decreased maternal responsiveness was the inability to establish robust social resources or large social networks (Evans, Boxhill, & Pinkava, 2008, pp. 234-235). These networks provide for mothers invaluable information regarding the nature of the educational, health and recreational services available in the community. Furthermore, these networks provide a support system to express frustration or confusion regarding the raising of a child, and in turn mothers can provide their own advice in dealing with these issues. The inability to establish sufficiently large social networks limits and restricts the information and thus the options a mother in a low-income family has available to her.
Socioeconomic status (SES) and its relation to family functioning and children’s development is one of the most heavily investigated constructs in social science research (Lima, et al., 2004). However, the direct implications of socioeconomic status are not always so well-defined and some research shows that poverty in and of itself is insufficient to explain less robust cognitive and behavioral outcomes among children of low-income families. Another recent study investigated the effects of SES on preschool children’s cognitive and behavioral outcomes specifically in the cohort of immigrant families. In this study three factors were used to establish SES: income, maternal education, and receipt of welfare assistance. Cognitive and Behavioral outcomes were measured using Bayles Scales of Infant Development-Second Edition (BSID-II), which assesses cognitive development for children under 3 ½ years of age, as well as the Aggressive Behavior subscale of the Child Behavior Checklist (Mistry, Biesanz, Chien, Howes, & Benner, 2008, p. 200). The study concluded that while SES as a single factor did not account for any statistically significant covariance with cognitive development or behavioral outcomes, indirect factors such as maternal education and parent stressor levels were much more determinant in those outcomes. In families where parents reported greater levels of stress saw increased aggressiveness outcomes in children after 36 months regardless of income or welfare receipt status (Mistry, Biesanz, Chien, Howes, & Benner, 2008, pp. 202-203). It was also shown across both immigrant and native populations, where the mother’s education level exceed 11. 75 years they were more likely to employ language/literacy parenting strategies, which led to higher scores on the BSID-II. In cases where mothers received less than 9 years of education, they were less likely to employ such strategies and thus children received lower scores on similar evaluations.
All of the studies briefly presented in this paper suggest that the anti-poverty programs as well as programs such as Head Start and No Child Left Behind, do not take sufficiently take into consideration the social and cultural consequences of poverty and instead focus on the economic and biological factors. Programs in the future should be directed at improving the quality of parental responsiveness to children’s needs, which requires greater attention to the ecological and environmental factors that parents must deal with on a daily basis.
Works Cited
Allegretto, S. A. (2006, July 19). U. S. Government Does Relatively Little to Lessen Child Poverty Rates. Retrieved June 3, 2008, from Economic Policy Institute: http://www. epi. org/content. cfm/webfeatures_snapshots_20060719
Evans, G. W., Boxhill, L., & Pinkava, M. (2008). Poverty and Maternal Responsiveness: The Role of Maternal Stress and Social Resources. International Journal of Behavorial Development , 32 (3), 232-237.
Lima, M., Eickmann, S., Lima, A., Guerra, M., Lira, P., Huttly, S., et al. (2004). Determinants of mental and motor development at 12 months in a low income population: a cohort study in northeast Brazil. Acta Paediatr (93), 969-975.
Mistry, R. S., Biesanz, J. C., Chien, N., Howes, C., & Benner, A. D. (2008). Socioeconomic Status, Parental Investments, and the Cognitive and Behavioral Outcomes of Low-income Children from Immigrant and Native Households. Early Childhood Research Quarterly (23), 193-212.