Poverty impacts child protection system contact

children
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

A child's chance of entering the child protection system is intrinsically linked to the deprivation of the area in which they live, University of Otago research has highlighted.

The study, published in Children and Youth Services Review, puts contact with the system into , in a similar way to health inequalities.

Lead author Dr. Emily Keddell, of the Social and Community Work Programme, says this takes the focus off individual behavior, placing it on more upstream, social causes.

"Usually contact with child protection systems is viewed as only to do with parents and families, but this research shows the influence of social context," she says.

The researchers looked at data on the nearly 14,000 children who had a substantiated case of abuse, group conference, or were put in , in 2013–14. They found a marked relationship between deprivation and contact.

By ranking areas from one to 10 using an established measure of deprivation, NZDep, they found 36 percent of all substantiated abuse cases and 28 percent of all placements to foster care occurred in the most deprived areas (NZDep10).

Compared to children living in the least deprived quintiles (NZDep1–2), children in the most deprived areas (NZDep9–10) were, on average, 13 times more likely to have child protection staff decide they had been abused, 18 times more likely to be involved in a family group conference, and six times more likely to be placed in foster care.

The study also highlights the intersections of class and ethnicity in system contact—as more Māori and Pacific families live in highly deprived areas, they are more affected by this relationship.

"Some people might take a 'so what' approach to this research, taking the position that 'everyone knows' contact with the child protection system reflects differences in deprivation levels. But what is surprising about this study, is that it shows that the pattern is widespread, and that there is a really steep and consistent social gradient, with each step in deprivation resulting in a higher chance of contact.

"Such a large disparity should concern us, as it shows that children living in deprived areas have such marked differences in life chances and experiences.

"We have, for example, a much steeper gradient than in England, where children in the most deprived quintile were nearly three times as likely to be in foster care, compared to those in the least deprived, while here they would be six times as likely," Dr. Keddell says.

The researchers also found nuances affecting system contact, most likely relating to demand and supply of services.

"Basically, children in equally highly deprived circumstances have a higher chance of coming into care if the small area they live in is within a less deprived region. This suggests other factors than the level of harm a child is experiencing affects children's chances of care.

"This is a social justice issue—we hope who need care can get it, while those who don't, remain with their families. This threshold should be applied consistently, in order to be fair."

Dr. Keddell is calling on the Government to "consider all causes of the gradient, and act."

"Policy makers need to address family income poverty, housing stress, and provide more robust preventive services for families. They also need to consider the role of exposure biases for people in more deprived neighborhoods and how that can combine with racialized bias to lead to 'over-intervention' in some communities, and 'under-intervention' in others.

"A child and family's chances of system contact shouldn't be determined by where you happen to live. It's not inevitable—addressing the causes of contact with the system may be more effective at the social, rather than individual level."


Explore further

Study shows huge postcode disparity in proportion of children in care

More information: Emily Keddell et al. Child protection inequalities in Aotearoa New Zealand: Social gradient and the 'inverse intervention law', Children and Youth Services Review (2019). DOI: 10.1016/j.childyouth.2019.06.018
Citation: Poverty impacts child protection system contact (2019, July 2) retrieved 24 July 2019 from https://phys.org/news/2019-07-poverty-impacts-child-contact.html
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.
11 shares

Feedback to editors

User comments

Jul 11, 2019
Child Protective Services are, for the most part, a kidnapping agency. The ransom is the price of a lawyer/legal fees/visitation companies/etc. The state breaks unfinanced families apart, then indoctrinates the children as slaves of the nation religion. The alienated parent becomes a slave, under threat of imprisonment, for 18 years...with no chance of being seen as an authority figure.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more