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Financial Uncertainty Increases Child Maltreatment – A Review of 26 Studies

By Aislinn Conrad-Hiebner, Ph.D., Social Work Professor, University of Iowa

Background of the Study

Many families face financial uncertainty and cannot pay their bills. These families are hungry, poor, and cannot afford shelter. Financial uncertainty stresses parents and sometimes leads to child abuse and neglect. Some researchers report that financial uncertainty increases child maltreatment. Other researchers do not. We need to know if financial insecurity increases child maltreatment. Without this information, we cannot stop child abuse or neglect.

Main Aim

We reviewed findings from 26 studies on financial uncertainty and child maltreatment, including abuse and neglect. This study is the first systematic review of financial uncertainty and child maltreatment. Systematic reviews clarify what is known about a topic.

Key Findings

1) Parents who need shelter, are hungry, or lose earnings are more likely to maltreat their children.

2) Maternal depression increases child abuse for financially insecure moms.

3) Parental employment lessens child maltreatment among financially insecure parents.

Implications for Policy and Practice

We found that financial uncertainty leads some parents to maltreat their children. Human services professionals, therapists, and social workers should:

  • Ask parents about sources of financial uncertainty in the areas of housing, income, employment, food, medical expenses, and other bills;
  • Dedicate 50% of caseload to financially insecure parents and children, including Medicaid-only clients.
  • Help families apply for social assistance programs like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Women, Infants, and Children;
  • Work with local agencies helping poor families find housing or pay bills.
  • Advocate that programs like Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and TANF suspend penalties and time limits for families.
  • Tell legislators to expand SNAP eligibility from 130% of the federal poverty guidelines to 185%. This change will align SNAP with the eligibility guidelines for free and reduced-price lunches for hungry children.

Future Research

Future researchers should test whether giving poor families money, food, and housing stops child abuse and neglect. These intervention studies would provide strong evidence of the link between financial uncertainty and child maltreatment.

Link to the Primary Paper

Conrad-Hiebner, A., & Byram, E. (2018). The temporal impact of economic insecurity on child maltreatment: A systematic review. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse. DOI: 10.1177/1524838018756122

Find the Author Online

Follow Aislinn on LinkedIn, Google Scholar, and ResearchGate

About Aislinn Conrad-Hiebner, Social Work Professor, University of Iowa

Alternative Text

Aislinn Conrad-Hiebner, PhD, is a Doris Duke fellow and a social work professor at the University of Iowa. In her research, Aislinn investigates how adverse childhood experiences and financial uncertainty influence parenting practices. Prior to receiving her graduate degrees, Aislinn was a case manager for children in foster care and investigated allegations of child maltreatment.

Aislinn Conrad-Hiebner on the Web
More on: Caregiver, Child Mental Health Care, Parenting, Research
Latest update: May 16, 2018