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Poverty and Children With Special Needs
Poverty is one of the most pervasive conditions associated with children with special needs. Already generally recognized as one of the main factors associated with a huge number of social issues, poverty is somehow an umbrella so large that it leads to the question of whether it is cause or effect. However, when it comes down to it, we can say with certainty that poverty is an adequate way to summarize the existence of a huge number of factors that contribute less to a family being able to adequately support a child with special needs.
Poverty as a causal factor
Poverty — the lack of adequate money — on the part of the parent can directly contribute to the birth of a child with special needs through a huge number of direct physical stressors, including (but not limited to):
• Poor nutrition: An undernourished fetus is likely to be born prematurely or with a low birth weight, both of which are definitively associated with special needs diagnoses.
• Neglect: Poor parents are far more likely to neglect their children simply as a matter of necessity, leaving them alone or with inadequate care so they can look for opportunities to pay the bills.
• Abuse: Poor parents are also much more likely to actively abuse their infants because they cannot cope with the stress of caring for a child while struggling with money and/or are addicted to mood or mind-altering drugs make him act abusively.
• Exposure: Obviously, homelessness or inadequate housing is much more common for poor parents, both of which can cause developmental problems in infants.
• Disease: Inadequate health care is one of the hallmarks of modern poverty. a child of poor parents is much more likely to have the first signs of an illness go unrecognized — or unrecognized and untreated — until the opportunity for prevention has passed.
In short, families suffering from chronic poverty are significantly more likely to have children with special needs — and are also the least likely to withstand the stress of raising a child with special needs.
Single parent family, poverty and special needs
A significant 8% of children born to two-parent families live at or below the federal poverty level. That statistic alone is grim enough — but it’s important to note that in recent decades, the percentage of children born to single mothers has skyrocketed to 38%, and a whopping 32% of single-parent children live below the poverty line . That averages out to 22% of all American children born “poor” — and thus, at significantly higher risk of being born with special needs, as described above.
In short, if we intend to seek a political solution to the growing number of children with special needs flooding our schools, there is an obvious area to start: with the eradication of poverty. Recent efforts in Utah as well as a significant number of experiments a few decades ago across Canada and the US have shown that we have the resources to do it — just not the political will.
The cost of children with special needs
According to a report titled Expensive Children in Poor Families, of 2,000 families surveyed who received welfare:
• 45% reported spending out-of-pocket on specialty clothing, food, transportation, medicine, health care, or childcare for their children. The average cost for families reporting such costs: $143 in the previous month. These children were not necessarily considered to have special needs, but families identified ‘specialised’ goods or services, implying that the general offerings were not suitable for their children.
• The average family supporting at least one child with a moderate or severe disability had to spend enough time and effort to support the child that they lost an average of $80 in work opportunity each month.
• Unless a family received SSI disability benefits for their child, expenses that would otherwise be covered by SSI reduced the family’s total real income so that 12% of families who would otherwise be considered OK were driven below the poverty level.
The Effects of Children with Special Needs on Public Assistance
While there is public assistance targeted specifically at families of children with special needs, this section deals only with non-targeted public assistance of the kind generally available to families without such children. In the same report it was found that:
• Families were more likely to receive help if they had a child with special needs and
• This probability increased with each additional child with special needs and
• It also increased with the severity of the disability experienced by each child.
In other words, just as one might intuitively predict, the more difficult it is to deal with a given set of children in terms of medical or social needs, the more likely the family supporting that child is to receive untargeted public assistance. Or, written more succinctly, having children with special needs makes families eligible for and seeking public assistance.
In addition, the study found that there were only two significant fates for families of children with special needs who went into welfare: either they left welfare but began receiving disability SSI, or they remained in welfare. The effect of having a child with a severe disability was equivalent to dependence on public assistance twice as strong as the effect of losing a parent in the family — implying that the cost of a child with a severe disability is greater than the income one collects parent by a significant amount.
We have now seen how poverty is a major cause of special needs in children born into families of poverty and how having one or more children with special needs causes families to fall into poverty. The vicious circle here should be immediately apparent: being poor makes it more likely that you will have a child with special needs, which in turn makes it more likely that you will remain poor for the foreseeable future. This is a problem that desperately needs a solution.
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