Child Neglect and the Economy

February 9, 2009 | | Comments Off on Child Neglect and the Economy

Everyone knows that the economy is not in great shape. The obvious results of the economic downturn are high unemployment rates, home foreclosures, and decrease in funding for schools. There may even be a connection between the slowing economy and increased rates of child abuse and neglect.

Child neglect comes in many different forms. Generally, neglect is the failure to provide. Physical neglect can result from a parent or guardian’s failure to provide life’s necessities, such as food, clothing, and shelter. Educational neglect involves a parent or guardian not sending their child to school at all or allowing the child be habitually truant. Emotional neglect results from not showing a child proper affection or verbally abusing a child. Medical neglect is the failure to provide care in emergencies and to adhere to medical advice given by a doctor concerning a child with a chronic illness. Parents in some situations can refuse to allow their child to receive medical treatment. Child protective services will step in if the child is suffering from a life threatening illness or other emergency, and the parent for some reason does not seek medical attention for the child. All the definitions of types of neglect involve omissions but, child neglect can also result from an act.

Chastity was a nine year old girl with Type I diabetes who died next to a bag of candy. Her mother is facing a felony charge of injury to a child in connection with the girl’s death. Chastity’s mother did not help her check her glucose levels and she often fed her food with high glucose levels. The day before she died, Chastity was very sick and her glucose was high. Her mother knew of Chastity’s poor condition, but she still fed her food high in glucose. Child Protective Services was aware that Chastity’s mother was not helping her daughter manage her diabetes, but they never found evidence of neglect.

But three established major risk factors for neglect and child abuse were present in Chastity’s situation. Chastity was nine years old and was a diabetic. Young children and children with chronic illness are at high risk to be victims of abuse and neglect. Chastity’s mother was twenty-seven years old. Young parents, particularly those under thirty, are at high risk to be perpetrators of abuse and neglect.  A fourth risk factor exists that is not that well established and is common to us all, the economy.

In some states, since the economic downturn, child abuse and neglect have risen 20%.  Investigation into neglect have risen mostly because of families not having electricity and heat, or being unable to provide medical care for their children. Experts point out that there has always been a connection between poverty and child abuse, which explains the increase in child abuse and neglect cases. Executive director of ChildHelp USA stated that unemployment and other financial woes increase stress, which in turn leads to substance abuse, which is directly connected to chronic illness.  Some are skeptical about attributing the rise in child abuse and neglect solely to the economy, such as Cathy Mols, Executive Director of the State Social Services Administration in Maryland.  She claims that child abuse and neglect increases when a number of factors are working together, including substance abuse, mental illness, domestic violence, and economic troubles.

Chastity’s case does not seem to fit the mold of a case of abuse connected to economic pressure. Economic troubles did not make her mother feed her dangerous foods or fail to monitor her glucose levels, when she had to the tolls to do so. This is not to say that there are not some abuse cases where the causal link between abuse and the economy is more easily identifiable.  Economic troubles affect everyone differently, so it is not impossible that those pressures could cause some parents to mistreat their children, either by failing to provide for them at all or providing inadequately.

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