Poverty is a risk factor for child neglect, but poverty does not equal neglect. Just because a family is living in poverty does not mean a child is unsafe or that a parent lacks the ability to care for them. Poverty is disproportionally present in Black, Brown, and American Indian/Alaska Native families. Because of this, service providers need to be aware of how biases, stigma, and oversurveillance of families, especially low-income families, leads to unnecessary involvement with child welfare. Families of color, as well as those living in poverty, are more likely to be investigated by child protective services (CPS), and children of color are more likely to be placed in out-of-home care. It is vital that all families receive services and supports that match their needs, are grounded in their own community and culture, and are devoted to equity. Explicit and implicit bias affect how families are treated at every CPS decision point. It is essential that service providers work to identify their own biases or stereotypes and how they may affect their decision-making when engaging with families, especially those from racially and culturally diverse backgrounds.
Understanding the causes of disproportionality—including racial bias as well as socioeconomic and systemic factors—can help communities and service providers prevent child neglect and ensure families receive access to the services and supports they need. Use the resources on this page to understand how to distinguish between child neglect and poverty.
Child Welfare Practice to Address Racial Disproportionality and Disparity
Disentangling Neglect From Poverty Across Definitions, Outcomes, Interventions, and Policy Recommendations [Webinar]
Penn State Social Science Research Institute (2022)
Offers information on poverty and neglect from child welfare experts for caseworkers, child advocates, and other child welfare professionals.
Distinguishing Poverty Experienced by Families From Child Neglect (PDF - 811 KB)
National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (2021)
Emphasizes the need to distinguish between poverty and neglect in families encountering the child welfare and court systems. The report outlines how addressing the underlying causes of poverty can help decrease child welfare system involvement, avoid unnecessary child removals, and promote child and family well-being.
Family Poverty Is Not Child Neglect [Podcast]
Off-Kilter Podcast (2019)
Presents a discussion with a member of Congress, who explains a personal experience with the child welfare system that motivated her to pass legislation to help prevent the separation of families due to poverty.
Family Poverty Is Not Neglect [Webinar]
Redleaf & White (2018)
National Association of Counsel for Children
Highlights the intersection of poverty and child neglect and how the child welfare system needs to separate them. The webinar requires a free registration to view it.
In Defining Maltreatment, Nearly Half of States Do Not Specifically Exempt Families’ Financial Inability to Provide
Williams, Dalela, & Vandivere (2022)
Describes the intersection of poverty and economic insecurity with involvement with the child welfare system due to neglect.
Perspectives on Poverty [Webinar]
Prevent Child Abuse Georgia
Shares information to help child welfare professionals remove barriers and improve practices when engaging with vulnerable families who may be living in poverty.
Poverty Is Not Abuse… Poverty Is Not Neglect
Milner & Kelly (Eds.) (2022)
Family Integrity & Justice Quarterly, 1(2)
Discusses how mandatory reporting of child abuse and neglect is overwhelming child welfare caseworkers with reports related to poverty and how poverty is not neglect.
Redefining Poverty in Tribal Communities
Garrick, Willer, & Northburg (2020)
Children’s Bureau Express, 20(10)
Explores approaches used with families that are part of the Cook Inlet Tribal Council to help them deal with crises and transform them from surviving to thriving.
A Roadmap to Reducing Child Poverty
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine (2019)
Examines the links between child poverty and child well-being and analyzes efforts to reduce poverty for children in the United States. Downloading the report requires a free login.
Systemically Neglected: How Racism Structures Public Systems to Produce Child Neglect
Minoff & Citrin (2022)
Center for the Study of Social Policy
Discusses the difference between poverty and neglect and how the two are often confused. The report also outlines the history of how child protection systems developed to surveil families of color and provides recommendations for change.
The Temporal Impact of Economic Insecurity on Child Maltreatment: A Systematic Review
Conrad-Hiebner & Byram (2018)
Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 21(1)
Explores the relationship between economic insecurity for children and child maltreatment.