According to UNICEF, childhood poverty “blights [a child’s life] with ill health, malnutrition and impaired physical and mental development. It saps their energy and undermines their confidence in the future… Chronic malnutrition, micronutrient deficiencies and frequent illness can lead to poor school performance. Consequently, affected children are more likely to drop out of school early and work at occupations below the poverty line, if they manage to find work at all.”
Extreme poverty in the lives of their parents and adult relatives often spells disaster for children. Adults living in extreme poverty tend to become disillusioned, stressed and edgy, making them prone to violence and lacking in sensitivity.
Because of their circumstances, children living with adults under these circumstances are often subjected to neglect and forced labor as the adults try to cope with the situation at hand.
Children often feel that the only way to escape the cycle of poverty, abuse and neglect is to run away from home. This notion, however, is usually dangerously false, thrusting children into even more extreme poverty circumstances.
One of the best ways to help children living in poverty is to help the adults that they rely on.
There is a long list of things that people living in poverty need — both individually and as a community: money, stress coping mechanisms, an increase in schools, jobs, day-care services, access to water and hospitals in addition to a decrease in street violence and drugs.
Governments must decide if they want to spend more now to provide welfare services to complement the parents’ low paying jobs, or risk a very poor future resting on the backs of ill-prepared, poverty stricken children.
It is also important to ensure that parents gain and maintain the proper parenting skills even when they are stressed. Situations a parent or relative deals with should affect a child in his or her care as little as possible.
If a caregiver’s desire can be maintained to help his or her child to grow up as healthy as possible, both mentally and physically, even as day-to-day life and providing gets harder, we add one more overlooked, yet significant way to help children living in poverty.
There are many short and long term, big and little picture ways in which we can ensure that children in poverty suffer as little as possible and have a chance to escape the cycle that they are exposed to at home. We just have to be willing to implement them.
– Drusilla Gibbs