How poverty separates families and what could be done to prevent it?

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Global Coalition to end child poverty
Monica Jahangir-Chowdhury

How poverty separates families and what could be done to prevent it?

Post by Monica Jahangir-Chowdhury » Mon Dec 03, 2018 8:55 pm

The International Movement ATD Fourth World is a movement of solidarity among and in collaboration with the most excluded children and families around the world. Our organization is currently exploring the possibility of launching a new international research project on the topic of poverty and its links to the separation of families, building upon our study “How Poverty Separates Parents and Children: A challenge to Human Rights”, published in 2004. We seek input from forum members to feed into and guide the 2019 research project.

Causes of poverty and family separation:

- Separation of children from their parents is not limited to very poor families. But factors associated with extreme poverty play a major role in separating families.

In Haiti, it is common for families to entrust their children to wealthier families because of the lack of resources to raise their children on their own. Children do chores for the foster families in exchange for educational opportunities. However, many of these children end up overloaded with chores, are prevented from going to school and can be victims of physical and verbal abuse(ATD Fourth World, 2004)

- Not only families living in poverty suffer from a lack of financial resources, but their fundamental human rights, such as their rights to health, education, food, housing and self-determination, are more often than not denied to them. Extreme poverty is therefore both a cause and a consequence of human rights violations (Guiding Principles on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, 2012). Poverty leads to insecurity, that compromises people’s chances of regaining their rights and reassuming their responsibilities in the foreseeable future, sometimes leading to family crises.

- Injustice, stigmatization and discriminations: poor parents are often mistrusted by society about their ability to take care of their children. In many Western countries, children are separated from their families by social services due to allegations of economic neglect.

In the United States and United Kingdom, children are taken away from their families because social services do not believe in the ability of families living in poverty to raise their children properly. The current child welfare policy in the United States tends to separate children from their parents, sometimes unnecessarily. In addition, children of color are more likely to be put in foster care than white children because of the stereotypes about black family dysfunction. (Dorothy Roberts, 2002)

Consequences of family separation

- Family separation destroys children’s support network, self-esteem, and courage to struggle against poverty. In the short term, feelings of shame and stigmatization can be overwhelming for children. In the long term, children experience acute mental trauma that will have long-term health consequences. (UNICEF, 2018). The impact of family separation is also visible in education and job opportunities for both children and parents.

In China, a large number of rural residents migrate to urban areas for better job opportunities, leaving their children behind with a caregiver - this phenomenon is called “the left behind children in rural China”. Research has shown that this group of children was at a greater risk for developing depression. (Bingyan He, Jingyi Fan, Ni Liu, Huijuan Li, Yanjun Wang, Joshua Williams, Kaishing Wong, 2012)

A few solutions and ways forward to keep families together

- Child poverty and separation is lowest in those countries with high social expenditures on children and families. Child Sensitive Social Protection (CSSP) helps families to cope with chronic poverty, stresses and shocks and enables them to invest on an adequate and continuing basis in their children’s well-being. (Global Coalition to End Child Poverty, 2017)

In South Africa, the Child Support Grant (CSG) was designed to provide support to all children in poverty in post-Apartheid South Africa, eliminating any sort of discrimination in the selection of the beneficiaries and improving their nutrition while reducing early pregnancy and sexually risky behavior.

- A commitment to defend the rights of children and families should also be reflected at all levels, in both policy and practice. Implementing change requires training, planning, monitoring, and evaluation, in partnership with the children and families themselves. This begins with a focus on people as active participants in development – priority must be given to supporting efforts made by the poorest people. Organizations such as ATD Fourth World or the coalition Support not separation offer platforms for people to share their experience.

- People who work with people living in poverty, such as practitioners and social workers, should have more relevant training on the realities of extreme poverty and its consequences, in order to avoid putting poor families at risk due to an insufficient understanding of extreme poverty. The handbook, “Making human rights work for people living in extreme poverty” is an excellent tool to this end.

Continuing the discussion…

- How can we address the negative stereotypes about poor families that lead to the separation of children from their parents?

- How can social protection and children protection systems be further integrated?

- Are there examples of integrated family support systems that can be replicated in other countries?


- ATD Fourth World Movement (2004). How Poverty Separates Parents and Children.
- Bingyan He, Jingyi Fan, Ni Liu, Huijuan Li, Yanjun Wang, Joshua Williams, Kaishing Wong, 2012. Depression risk of ‘left-behind children’ in rural China
- Center for Global Development, South Africa’s Child Support Grant. Retrieved from ... port-grant
- Global Coalition to End Child Poverty, 2017, Child Sensitive Social Protection Briefing Paper. Retrieved from ... omko1p12it
- Roberts, Dorothy (2002). Shattered Bonds: The Color of Child Welfare
- UNICEF (2018). Why Detaining Children Is Harmful. Retrieved from ... mful/34488

Re: How poverty separates families and what could be done to prevent it?

Post by » Wed Dec 19, 2018 2:27 am

Migration for employment is one main way poverty separate families. Many poor parents migrate internally or internationally in search of better jobs. Unlike their richer counterparts, they can't usually take their families to the places with better jobs because of poverty. In the case of international migration, parents may not see their children for years. Although the parents go abroad to provide a better future for the children, growing up without parental guidance and protection can result in poor social and educational outcomes for children. Lest behind 1children can also get used to substance abuse more easily.

Better jobs, affordable housing in urban areas, family oriented employment opportunities can prevent separation of families due to poverty.


Re: How poverty separates families and what could be done to prevent it?

Post by Keetie » Mon Apr 29, 2019 2:38 pm

Social protection can play an important role in preventing family separation.
Research with Family for Every Child and their members in Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa showed that cash transfer programmes can help to avoid adults and children to move elsewhere for work or to be placed into care with others. In relation to migration, caregivers in Nepal indicated that if the public works programme that they were part provided more days of work per year, it would prevent their spouses (mostly men) from seasonal migration into India.
There is a lot of devil in the detail though. Experiences with public works programmes are not altogether positive, with additional demands on caregivers’ time leaving children to their own devices and therefore at risk of leaving the family (such as in Rwanda). In South Africa, concerns were raised about the relatively generous Foster Child Grant incentivising kinship or foster for monetary reasons. These adverse consequences do not play out on a widespread scale, but they occurrence does point towards importance of careful programme design and implementation, and importance of safeguards.

Research in Ghana, Rwanda and South Africa:
South Africa:

Research in Nepal:

Last bumped by Anonymous on Mon Apr 29, 2019 2:38 pm.


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