040518 CHILDABUSE

Ashley Philips, early childhood programs director for CAPSTJOE, discusses the link between poverty and child abuse and neglect.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Some experts see a correlation between child abuse and poverty. A recent study published in the Journal of American Medical Association Pediatrics found that children whose families earn $15,000 a year or less are 22 times more likely to be maltreated.

The National Bureau of Economic Research reported that child neglect increased in states that cut their welfare benefit levels.

Ashley Philips, early childhood programs director, said stress more than likely plays a major factor in the abuse cases. The stress comes from both working parents trying to make ends meet, paying bills, and providing food and shelter on a meager salary.

“When you have families who are stressed, they have external stresses in their lives, we see a rise in child abuse across the nation,” Philips said.

Melissa Birdsell, executive director of the Northwest Missouri Children’s Advocacy Center said cases of child abuse have increased over the years.

“Over the last several years we’ve gone from seeing 300 kids for forensic interviews to 688 last year. We can’t get them in fast enough,” Birdsell said.

She added that when it comes to their forensic cases — cases investigated for crime — 64 percent of victims lived in households that had a total income of $25,000 a year. Birdsell said that 26 percent of that percentage had more than five people in the household living off of that income.

“I don’t know what the poverty line is right now or what’s considered poverty level, but I would have to imagine five people in a household making $25,000 a year,” Birdsell said.

Birdsell said they served another 11 percent of children from families in the $25,000 to $35,000 income. The center also served families making $50,000 or more annually.

Birdsell said she thinks there is a correlation between abuse and poverty but is unsure whether it’s directly related.

“I don’t know whether it’s more common for those families to report,” she said. “It’s everywhere, but it’s definitely concentrated in the lower income population from what we see.”

The First Focus, a family- and children-oriented website claims that poverty is especially harmful to children during the early years. It cites a number of studies that have shown that children living in poverty begin to show lower cognitive and academic readiness as early as age two.

“Not all parents who live in poverty abuse their children and many who do are not poor,” wrote Shadi Houshyar on the First Focus website. “The link between child abuse and poverty can be explained in a number of ways.”

One way is poverty generating family stress and parents living in poverty not having access to the resources necessary or factors like substance abuse Houshyar wrote.

The National Bureau of Economic Research also reported that absent and/or unemployed fathers and increased poverty are associated with higher rates of maltreatment. Poverty has a bigger impact on neglect than on physical abuse.

Philips said people can contribute to the prevention of child abuse and neglect in three ways: mentoring, advocating and donating time and/or money.

“If you don’t have the ability to give time or advocate, one of the things you can do is give to the organizations within our community that work every day with families, to support them through the barriers and help increase their parenting skills,” she said.

Alonzo Weston can be reached at alonzo.weston@newspressnow.com. Follow him on Twitter: @SJNPWeston.