Spike in Unemployment Tied to More Child Neglect

The number of reported cases of child neglect in the United States increased as a result of the spike in unemployment following the financial crisis of 2007-08, according to a new study from Oxford University in England.

In fact, the researchers found a 20 percent increase in cases of reported neglect for every one percentage point increase in unemployment. The findings suggest that unemployment can lead to an increase in child neglect because parents have more limited access to the resources required to provide for a child’s basic needs, such as food, clothing, and healthcare.

Using nearly a decade’s worth of data from the National Child Abuse and Neglect Data System (NCANDS), produced by the National Data Archive on Child Abuse and Neglect (NDACAN), the researchers looked at every reported incident of child abuse and neglect made to the state Child Protective Services for nearly every county in the U.S. from 2004 to 2012.

They found a significant link between unemployment and child neglect, with a one percentage point increase in the unemployment rate leading to a 20 percent increase in reported neglect. No link was found between unemployment and other forms of child abuse.

“There is increasing research on the causal effect of economic conditions on domestic violence, but this work has never been done for children, which is a very different dynamic,” said Elisabetta De Cao, Ph.D., research fellow in Oxford’s Centre for Health Service Economics & Organisation.

The study also looked at the value and impact of social (government provided) and private safety nets (partner, family, friends, health insurance), and whether access to these resources has a mitigating effect on unemployment.

The researchers found that access to state-provided unemployment benefits made a significant difference. Initially offered to people for a maximum of 26 weeks pre-recession, these benefits were extended in some states during the economic crisis, and ranged significantly from 48 weeks up to 99 weeks.

In states that were more generous, offering 87 weeks of unemployment benefits or more, child neglect still increased by 14 percent but in states that offered a maximum of 55 weeks of benefits, reported incidents of child neglect rose by 21 percent.

“Our study shows that unemployment causes an increase in child neglect, with little evidence of an effect on other types of abuse. During hard times, if parents lose their jobs and don’t have access to safety nets, they no longer have the means to provide for their children, which ultimately leads to neglect,” said Dan Brown, Ph.D. student in Economics at Oxford University.

“We also found an indication that after a job loss people spend less on basic goods, like food and beverages. In doing so, this can lead to a higher likelihood of neglect.”

While state help can make a huge difference, the study showed that access to private safety nets also has a positive effect. A key private safety net the researchers looked at is health insurance. The effects of unemployment on child neglect were notably greater in counties where more children did not have health insurance, and were therefore less protected.

In terms of demography, the findings show that African-American children were least likely to have two employed parents living with them, and were accordingly more at risk of neglect when one parent lost a job, compared to Caucasian or Hispanic children.

“In general policies that are designed to enable parents’ employment security could prove an important contribution to reducing child maltreatment,” said De Cao.

“There is an indication that cutting these services will lead to an increase in neglect. We need to better understand whether parents face barriers to creating private safety nets, which could help people to cope during bad economic times.”

“If we can reduce the number of neglected children, it will have a positive long-term impact on society. These children will go on to have better outcomes in adulthood, which will have positive labor, health, and economic effects.”

While this study focused on the effects of unemployment in the U.S., the researchers are in the process of replicating the study in the U.K., which arguably has a more generous welfare system. The results of this work are expected in the next year.

Source: University of Oxford