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Social Workers Talk to Congress About Link Between Poverty and Child Abuse, Neglect

Social work and child welfare experts from around nation on December 12 briefed lawmakers and Congressional staff on the strong correlation between poverty and child abuse and neglect. The briefing was timely, considering U.S. poverty levels have risen in the past six years and January 2014 marks the 50th Anniversary of the War on Poverty.

The briefing was sponsored by the NASW, the Council on Social Work Education (CSWE), and the Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy (CRISP) and cosponsored by the National Child Abuse Coalition and National Foster Care Coalition in conjunction with the Congressional Social Work Caucus.

Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA), chair of the Congressional Social Work Caucus, and Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA), cochair of the Congressional Foster Youth Caucus, spoke at the event, which was moderated by NASW Social Work Policy Institute Director Joan Levy Zlotnik, PhD, ACSW.

“This briefing helped educate lawmakers and their staff on how we can protect young people from abuse and neglect and improve the quality of life for children and their families by combatting poverty,” said NASW Executive Director Angelo McClain, who spoke on a panel at the meeting.

Rep. Lee also urged social workers to support legislation that helps alleviate poverty and provides resources to help end child abuse and neglect.

“Our time is now, given what has taken place in our country,” she said. “We need to put people first.”

Poverty levels in the United States have risen.  Fifteen percent of Americans—or more than 46 million people—lived at or below the poverty level in 2012, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. That is 2.5 percentage points higher than in 2007 before the recession began.

The briefing was based around findings from the Institute of Medicine’s recently released New Directions in Child Abuse and Neglect Research report. That study found there is a high correlation between poverty and incidents of child abuse and neglect, but especially neglect.

Each year Child Protective Services receive more than six million child abuse and neglect reports and many more go unreported. The IOM report found that more than three out of four of such cases in the United States are classified as neglect.

“Families that are grappling with unemployment, hunger and affordable housing are under tremendous stress, raising the odds children in these families will experience abuse or neglect,” McClain said. “By battling poverty we can reduce such incidences and help these families thrive.”

— Source: National Association of Social Workers