Research shows that poverty has an effect on parenting. A negative effect. Not always, of course – research does not offer insight into the unique situation of each individual who might fall into the category of the relevant context but it does offer a general idea backed up by statistical proof; and in the case of poverty, typically; parenting suffers.
Writing about the relationship between parenting and poverty for the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, researchers note that parents who are stressed are less likely to be able to provide optimal home circumstances and are more likely to use coercive and harsh methods of discipline. Changes in income and poverty status are also linked closely with maternal depression, and stats show that problems in families increase when low-income families suffer stress, such as absence of a supportive partner, depression or drug use.
It thus comes at no consolation that the numbers released by CPAG’s 2018 Cost of a Child report suggest that life has been getting progressively tougher for families on low or modest incomes over the past ten years, with families on in-work and out-of-work benefits hardest hit. A combination of rising prices, benefits and tax credits freezes, the introduction of the benefit cap and two-child limit, the bedroom tax, cuts to housing benefits and the rolling out of universal credit have hit family budgets hard.
One comment that comes from the report is that this recorded loss of income is having profound consequences, in terms of hardship, in families who have nowhere near enough to make ends meet.
The emotional health of our families, here in the UK, should be of optimal importance and priority to those who are in positions to enable change. Healthy families mean healthy communities, which means a healthy society – and a healthy country. The breakdown of family relationships underlies so many of the things going wrong in communities; one recent study showed that exposure to disadvantaged environments as indicated by low income, low maternal education, unstable family structure, and harsh parenting, is associated with a reduced Telomere Length (TL); a biological marker of chronic stress by 9 years of age. Chronic stress disrupts developing brain architecture and other organ systems and regulatory functions. It is likely to result in physiological issues (hyper-responsive/chronically activated stress response), behaviour issues (maladaptive responses) and learning issues (with linguistic, cognitive and other skills compromise). The point is that children with these physiological, behavioural and learning issues will become adults with the same sort of issues unless something changes.
It feels like a vicious circle; poverty, leading to stress, which may result in adverse circumstances within families…leading to more stress. Although this is not an ‘always’ scenario, research tells us that it happens a lot. The question is what can we do? What can you do?
The Cost of a Child report also shows that relationship problems have been shown to improve when families enjoy social support from family, friends or neighbours. Fixing poverty is an obvious necessity but this won’t happen overnight and in the meantime families living with low income and the associated parenting struggles need support. Kids Matter equips churches to deliver an accessible and effective parenting programme to parents within their local communities, giving mums, dads and caregivers the tools to build strong families. It focuses on early intervention; empowering parents to grow in confidence and develop the skills necessary to build strong relationships with their children. And it works.
Please contact Kids Matter (firstname.lastname@example.org) for information regarding our parenting programme – perhaps you’d like to partner with us, volunteer or even support us financially.
For statistics relating to chronic stress in childhood and its effects, read PARENTING IN THE EARLY YEARS by Jane Barlow, Professor of Evidence-Based Intervention and Policy Evaluation – contact email@example.com for research details.
For more articles by Kids Matter on the the relationship on parenting and poverty, click HERE .