Advocating for Children in Care in a Climate of Economic Recession: The Relationship Between Poverty and Child Maltreatment

19 Pages Posted: 12 Jun 2011

Date Written: June 7, 2011


In the decades since Dr. Henry Kempe and his colleagues first coined the term "battered-child syndrome," the medical, legal, and social work professionals who wrestle with child maltreatment have faced the challenge of understanding the relationship between socioeconomic status and the kinds of harms that may prompt the intervention of public child welfare systems. More than thirty years ago, Professor Leroy Pelton wrote about what he termed the myth of classlessness, positing that many of the problems associated with child maltreatment are better understood as a reflection of the conditions in which many families live. Pelton cautioned that miscasting child abuse and neglect as a medical or psychodynamic problem related to behavior, rather than as a socioeconomic problem, would interfere with society's ability and willingness to develop effective interventions aimed at the roots of child maltreatment. If we do not understand how entrenched social problems shape child maltreatment, we cannot possibly hope to forge effective strategies or solutions — on either an individual or a macro level — that actually serve the interests of children at risk of becoming involved in the child protection system. This essay explores the relationships between poverty, neglect, and race, and the impact of the current recession on children and families exposed to the child welfare system. It also addresses the challenges posed by the climate of economic decline for advocates seeking to ensure both that the needs of children in foster care are met, and that state systems intervene into the lives of poor families only when they can act with confidence that the affected children will be made better off as a result.

Keywords: child welfare, child maltreatment, poverty, neglect

Suggested Citation

Boyer, Bruce A. and Halbrook, Amy E., Advocating for Children in Care in a Climate of Economic Recession: The Relationship Between Poverty and Child Maltreatment (June 7, 2011). Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy, Vol. 6, No. 2, Spring 2011, Loyola University Chicago School of Law Research Paper No. 2011-019, Available at SSRN:

Bruce A. Boyer (Contact Author)

Loyola University Chicago School of Law ( email )

25 E. Pearson
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

No contact information is available for Amy E. Halbrook

Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics