economic difficulties and the occurrence of stressful life events for which they have insufficient resources to cope effectively. Parental stress leads to increased levels of parental depression and interparental conflict, which in turn lead to problems in parenting, including withdrawal from the children, hostility, more frequent use of corporal punishment, and at extreme levels maltreatment. Each of these factors has been found to relate to higher levels of internalizing and externalizing problems in children.

The third pathway involves the neighborhood and community in which poor families are more likely to live. Poor neighborhoods and schools are less likely to have the resources that promote healthy child development and are more likely to be settings that expose children to additional risk factors, such as violence and the availability of drugs and alcohol. Disentangling the effects of the neighborhood and the family is difficult, but there is evidence that many of the factors associated with poor neighborhoods and schools are associated with multiple mental, emotional, and behavioral problems for children (Gershoff and Aber, 2006). More research is needed to tease out these effects and, most importantly, to identify factors that may protect children from the negative effects of living in high-poverty neighborhoods (Roosa, Jones, et al., 2003).

Gershoff, Aber, and Raver (2003) also describe policy- and program-level interventions that may be effective in reducing the negative effects of poverty on children. Their model illustrates interventions to change each of the pathways that lead to adverse outcomes. Parent-directed human capital enhancement policies at the federal and state levels are designed to aid families through programs for job training and education to increase parents’ skills and earning capacity and programs to encourage young women to postpone childbearing so that they can stay in school and obtain better jobs. Income support programs, such as the Earned Income Tax Credit and the Child Support Enforcement Program, are designed to increase the economic self-sufficiency of families. Programs also offer in-kind support, including supplemental child nutrition (e.g., Special Supplement Food Program for Women, Infants, and Children), health insurance for children, and high-quality child care. Parent-directed programs are designed to aid children by enhancing parents’ own well-being and their ability to provide a healthy childrearing environment. Two-generation programs are designed with multiple components to assist both parents and children. For example, Early Head Start focuses on improving child development, family development, and staff and community development. Finally, child-directed programs include providing additional funds for high-poverty schools and for after-school programs in poor neighborhoods.

A natural experiment found that increases in family income and income-related resources were followed by a reduction in both psychiatric and behavioral symptoms in children (Costello, Compton, et al., 2003; see also Chapter 6).



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement