The continuing role of material factors in child maltreatment and placement

Child Abuse Negl. 2015 Mar;41:30-9. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2014.08.001. Epub 2014 Aug 26.


This article constitutes a 20-year update to a previous publication (Pelton, 1994), which showed that there is overwhelming evidence that poverty and low income are strongly related to child abuse and neglect. Subsequent evidence shows that the relationship continues to be strong. In addition, there is further evidence since the 1994 publication that this relation is not substantially due to class bias. Yet it is suggested that class bias does exist within the system. There is also further evidence that decreases in child maltreatment follow increases in material supports, and that job loss bears a complex relationship to child maltreatment. Findings pertaining to racial bias within the child welfare system continue to be mixed, but leave no doubt that racial disproportionalities within the system are overwhelmingly related to racial disproportionalities in the poverty population. There is continuing evidence that children placed in foster care are predominantly from impoverished families, and that changes in the level of material supports are related to risk of placement. It is suggested that the fact that there are nearly one million children in out-of-home placement (foster care and child-welfare involved adoption, combined) is indicative of the continuing dysfunction of the child welfare system, and that the differential response paradigm has not altered this dysfunction. A proposal for a fundamental restructuring of the child welfare system is recommended and restated here. Prospects for such change are briefly discussed. Also, to reduce poverty, a previously proposed universal social dividend and taxation system is briefly discussed and recommended.

Keywords: Adoption; Child maltreatment; Differential response; Foster care; Poverty; Racial bias.

MeSH terms

  • Adoption
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / economics
  • Child Abuse / prevention & control*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Protective Services / organization & administration
  • Foster Home Care
  • Government Agencies / organization & administration
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Income
  • Poverty / economics*
  • Poverty / ethnology
  • Poverty / prevention & control
  • Racial Groups / ethnology
  • Social Class
  • Social Support
  • Unemployment
  • United States / epidemiology