Concepts of Poverty and How They Influence Research, Policy and Intervention with Poor Children and Their Families

In: Children and Childhood: Practices and Perspectives

There is an ever-expanding literature in the social and behavioural sciences about the contemporary and long-term effects on the development of children who grow up in poverty. Studies of poor children frequently attempt to attribute childhood poverty to poor parenting and dysfunctional family circumstances which, in turn, transmit adversity and personal and social dysfunction to children who grow up in such families. While there is evidence to support the adverse effects of significant levels of poverty on children’s growth and development, many studies that investigate developmental trajectories of poor children do not support intergenerational transmission of personal and social dysfunction from parent to offspring. There are also other research findings that have not supported the widespread contention that the poor, both adults and children, are disconnected from their communities. With increasing evidence to challenge common assertions about origins of childhood poverty, it is surprising that there are few challenges to the underlying premises upon which many studies of childhood poverty are based. It will be argued that common research questions that underlie much research into childhood poverty reveal the persistence of stereotypical constructs about the undeserving poor and about what constitutes a typical childhood and family that, in turn, influence both theory and empirical research and affect policy development and interventions that impact poor children and their families. The historical origins of stereotypes of the poor generally and poor children particularly, will be discussed. Contemporary theory, research findings, public policy and intervention programmes with poor children and their families will be used to exemplify this viewpoint. Outcomes for poor children of prevalent stereotypes that underpin research, policy and practice in childhood poverty will be discussed.

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