Poverty and financial stress impact children’s life trajectories
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Poverty and financial stress impact children’s life trajectories

by Freya Lucas

June 24, 2024

Researchers from the University of Liverpool are calling for “unflinching conversations” about the impact that poverty and financial stress have on families as the cost of living spikes not only in Australia, but around the world. 


In England, where the researchers are based, of the children born between 1992 and 1994, one in 30 experienced out of home care at some point during their childhood


The number of children in the care of their local authority (similar to guardianship in an Australian context) has been increasing year on year for more than a decade, and poverty, researchers say, is an integral part of why. 


Children in the most economically deprived areas of England are more than ten times as likely to enter the care system than those from more affluent areas. 


Significantly, the rise in child poverty between 2015 and 2020 led to over 10,000 additional children entering care.


“Our paper identified a number of similarities in how policymakers frame the problem of rising poverty – all of which, we suggest, stand in the way of implementing positive and effective change,” lead author Dr Davara Bennett said. 


“We are calling for unflinching conversations about what poverty and financial stress can do to families – and the knock-on effects on overstretched, underfunded services. This could pave the way for appropriate and effective anti-poverty policy at a local level and beyond.”


Despite clear evidence of a causal relationship between rising child poverty and children entering care, the study finds that policymakers used ‘ambiguous language’ to describe the relationship – ambiguity that could prevent a meaningful consideration of anti-poverty policies.


To carry out this study, researchers conducted interviews with 15 policymakers across six local authority Children’s Services departments in England. Through recording and analysing responses, they identified common themes across participants.


Weaving together direct quotes and analysis, they illustrate policymakers’ hesitation and caution in broaching the connections between poverty and care. 


Participants raised the problem of poverty in relation to care entry, but never in plain causal terms. Significantly, they framed deprivation as a powerful but static force, disconnected from the often rapidly changing socioeconomic conditions of families’ lives – so downplaying the potential for change. 


Researchers suggest speaking plainly. They propose a causal framing that taps into “our intuitive understanding of the damage that financial stress can do.”


This, they argue, may help pave the way for more productive and non-stigmatising conversations about root problems and meaningful solutions.


Access ‘Poverty and children entering care in England: A qualitative study of local authority policymakers’ perspectives of challenges in Children’s Services  using the link provided.

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