Several decades of research have demonstrated a strong statistical correlation between poverty and child abuse and neglect (CAN) and between poverty and children’s chances of becoming involved in child protection interventions. Yet there is scant research that attempts to portray the ways in which parents and practitioners in the child protection system perceive and understand the relationships between these phenomena, the mechanisms through which they interact in their everyday lives, and the complex ways in which they do so. Moreover, there is a dearth of research that addresses this relationship in the context of social inequality and in light of the growing body of knowledge known as "critical poverty knowledge," which highlights the relational and symbolic dimensions of poverty.
Based upon and informed by the theoretical framework of critical poverty knowledge, this study’s aims were the following: a) to describe parents’ and practitioners’ perspectives on the pathways between poverty, child maltreatment, and child protection involvement and b) to conceptualize the links between the material, social, and symbolic/relational dimensions of poverty, child maltreatment, and child protection involvement.
In order to achieve these objectives, and considering the paucity of knowledge regarding the views of parents and practitioners on the relationships between poverty, child maltreatment, and child protection involvement, this study adopts a qualitative methodological approach. It consists of 30 in-depth interviews with parents and social workers that took part in two small-scale family preservation programs in Israel. The data was analyzed using systematic content and thematic analysis.
Based on the theoretical framework of critical poverty knowledge, the analysis of the interviews revealed a matrix of relationships between poverty, child maltreatment, and child protection involvement that I conceptualize as the child protection-poverty matrix. In my presentation, I will demonstrate how this matrix makes it possible to map the harsh repercussions of poverty on parents and children in the child protection system. The matrix, which is characterized by an overarching experience of stress, consists of three main dimensions—the material, the social, and the symbolic/relational. Each dimension has three realms of influence—the child, the parents, and the child-parent relationship.
Conclusion and implications
The study adds to the body of knowledge the perspectives of parents and practitioners on the relationship between CAN, poverty and child protection involvement, enabling the revelation of new explanations. Moreover, it contextualizes CAN within social inequality and conceptualize the transformation of structural macro inequality into the unjust reality families face. Finally, it enables social workers to portray a justice oriented understanding of families’ situations and of the occurrence of CAN.