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Poverty Becomes Child Protection Concerns – That’s Avoidable!

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Recent reports out of the United States raise important concerns about the soaring rates of children living in poverty which is too often accompanied with homelessness. The National Centre on Family Homelessness states there were 2.5 million children who were homeless for at least part of the year in 2013.

Neglect, one of the most common issues that child protection faces, is driven in very many respects by poverty. The reasons are many, but can include:

• inadequate shelter places children at risk of illness;
• many families are forced to find space in high crime, high risk areas;
• parents may be forced to leave children with inadequate caregivers while they try to hold on to marginal wage jobs;
• homelessness makes it hard to get kids to school;
• there is a lot of stress on parents trying to manage homelessness increasing risks of various forms of maltreatment;
• children may be recruited into petty crimes like shoplifting as a way to try to get food and other necessities;
• children lose connections to friends and community programs as families wander from place to place;
• parents find it hard to meet the emotional needs of their children.

When child protection becomes involved, parents are seen as neglecting children. However, this is not the kind of neglect that typically is related to a parent’s lack of desire to do the right thing for their child. Rather, it is the reality of living without resources.

Taking children into foster care may be the limited solution available in many cases, but it is a poor solution. It adds unnecessary pressure to the child protection system in the form of increased case loads and heavier demands on placements.

The National Centre on Family Homelessness provides awareness on possible solutions which can include increasing access to low cost housing, subsidized day care so parents can work, feeding programs, and improving educational opportunities for parents. There can also be family oriented shelter programs such as the Inn from the Cold program in Calgary, Alberta.

The long terms costs of homelessness is evident when children are not being able to get a quality education and find themselves entering the vicious cycle of poverty as a result. Homelessness perpetuates the cycle of poverty and the damage to society is long term. The City of Medicine Hat in Southern Alberta and other cities have reported they are on the brink of eradicating homelessness within their boarders. For these efforts to be successful, a targeted approach must be utilized both in prevention and activation of resources for families.

Dr. Peter Choate is a Registered Social Worker and Member of the Clinical Registry and Approved Clinical Supervisor for the Alberta College of Registered Social Workers. He is an Assistant Professor at Mount Royal University in the Faculty of Social Work and Disability Studies and a Professional Development Instructor at the University of Calgary. His particular emphasis is on parenting capacity as well child and adolescent mental health including maltreatment, neglect and abuse (physical, sexual, emotional) and these issues within family systems.

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