In Washington DC, an area that has been affected very much by this issue, the law protects impoverished parents from having their children removed from the home due to poverty. But despite this law, separation of families because of poverty still occurs there. For example, a single mother can’t afford daycare and leaves her child at home while she goes to work. This behavior is neglect, and the child is removed from the home, but the root problem is poverty. The kids who are removed from these homes are placed into foster care, which is often a very traumatic experience. A third of former foster kids recently surveyed said that they experienced some form of maltreatment in a foster placement. Additionally, the state may end up paying more money to keep the children in foster care then it would spend on helping the impoverished single mother put her kids into an affordable day care.
Statistics correlate poverty with abuse and neglect. The US Department of Health and Human Services National Incidence Study of Child Abuse and Neglect says that children in households with incomes below $15,000 per year were victims of reported abuse 14 times more often than children in households whose annual income was at least $30,000. These kids from lower income families were also 44 times more likely to be reported victims of neglect. Studies have also shown that parents in low income families experience higher levels of stress due to their financial situations, and stress is linked to child abuse.
A few years ago, woman called a local homeless shelter about a space for herself and her children for the night. She was told that there were no spaces available, and that if she didn’t have a safe place to sleep for the night with her kids, she would be reported to DFACS. Many parents, now, are afraid to ask for housing help out of fear that they may have their kids taken away.
One potential solution to this problem is to give vouchers or aid to impoverished parents whose kids are in danger of neglect due to lack of financial resources. Other child advocates suggest starting “shelter crisis nurseries” that operate like homeless shelters but give parents a way to work towards long-term stability by building up their financial resource base while they can be sure they will have the option of nursery care available around the clock.
Because Clarke county is well-known for being one of the lowest-income counties in Georgia, as Athens residents we should care about this issue. Many times, we come into contact every day with someone who is struggling financially; often times these people are also parents, and may be afraid to make their financial situation known for fear of having their household investigated for neglect. It is the responsibility of CASAs to find out whether neglect is occurring due to parental irresponsibility or due to financial situation, and to advocate for reunification or a different plan depending on each family’s situation.
What do you think? Is it the government's job to provide financial assistance to these families, or is it a parent's responsibility to seek out affordable assistance before neglect occurs?