Engage: New narrative required to acknowledge impact of child poverty on abuse and neglect

After climate change, there is nothing more serious than poverty and there is clear evidence that it leads to higher levels of child abuse and neglect, said the University of Huddersfield’s Professor Brid Featherstone, speaking to a large gathering of social workers.

She is Professor of Social Work at the University and during her address at the event she called for “a new narrative” that would enable social workers to fully acknowledge the problems caused by deprivation and therefore avoid what she termed “poverty blindness”.

“We are at a pivotal point.  We can go on with more and more children coming into care, with rising numbers in poverty and decreased numbers of services engaging with them.  Or we can say that as a society we need to change this,” said Professor Featherstone.

“Social work has a history of taking poverty seriously.  We have just forgotten it a bit. The time has come for us to bring it back,” she continued.

“Restorative practices and an anti-poverty framework are the way to go.  If we can bring those two strands together we will change and be part of a change that is really crucial for families.”

Child poverty

Professor Featherstone (pictured) was speaking at an all-day event titled Celebrating Social Work, taking place at the University and organised in tandem with Kirklees Council.  It included contributions from the Council’s Chief Executive, Jacqui Gedman, and Councillor Viv Kendrick, who is cabinet member for adult social care.

There was also a keynote address from Lemn Sissay, a leading poet and dramatist who is a regular visitor to the University.  He was brought up in care, and this is the catalyst for much of his writing and activism.

The event also featured performances by school musicians, plus input from young people who had experience of the care system.

During her address, Professor Featherstone described the findings of the Child Welfare Inequalities Research Project in which she and her University of Huddersfield colleague Professor Paul Bywaters and Professor Kate Morris of Sheffield University – with a range of other colleagues from seven universities across the UK – have been investigating the links between poverty and children’s chances of  coming into care or being involved with the child protection system across all four nations of the UK.

She also discussed “robust evidence” from across the world that there is a clear association between poverty and child abuse and neglect and cited U.S. studies which showed that raising the income of families just a small amount can reduce abuse and neglect.

“Protecting children and ensuring that they flourish requires national and local government to commit to tackling poverty and associated ills.  We can’t have the child poverty figures that we have at the minute and not expect referrals to services to get higher and higher.”